Being in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey can be more than a little intimidating.
There’s so much to think about: Do you have a big enough roasting pan? How long should you cook it? How the heck do you carve it once it’s time to eat?
But before you tackle all of that, you need to figure out how much turkey to buy per person.
After all, you want to make sure the bird you buy is big enough to feed everyone at your table!
Ready to do some math? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is the Average Serving Size of Turkey?
You should aim to pile your plate with about 4 ounces of turkey — that’s the average serving size.
We’re guessing you don’t want to whip out a food scale at the dinner table on Thanksgiving. Luckily, it’s easy to eyeball: Four ounces is about the size of a regular deck of playing cards.
However, figuring out how much turkey to buy per person is not as simple as multiplying four ounces by the number of guests you’re expecting.
There are a few other important factors that affect how big your turkey should be.
How Much Turkey Do I Need Per Person?
“In general, aim for about 1.5 pounds of turkey per guest,” says Emily Danckers, M.S., R.D.
Here’s why: Turkey, like other types of meat, contains water.
This water will evaporate during the cooking process, shrinking it by about 25 percent. You also have to account for the weight of the other parts of a whole turkey, including the bones, giblet, and neck.
Plus, while four ounces is the recommended serving size for turkey, Thanksgiving isn’t exactly well-known for portion control.
Erring slightly on the side of “too much turkey” ensures that everyone leaves happy.
If you want to ensure you have plenty of Thanksgiving leftovers for meal prep, you can bump that amount up to 1.75 pounds or even 2 pounds of turkey per person.
Only have a few people coming over? Consider a petite turkey instead.
These birds are smaller than the typical Thanksgiving turkey and range from 6 to 10 pounds.
5 Tips for Buying the Perfect Turkey
So you know how much turkey you need to buy to feed all your guests. Now it’s time to actually buy the bird!
Follow these tips to get the best-tasting turkey.
1. Know the different types of turkey
There are three main types of turkey you can choose from:
- Natural. These turkeys are free of additives or flavoring and aren’t injected with water. You’ll have to brine natural turkeys to ensure they don’t end up dry when cooked.
- Kosher. These birds are pre-salted and retain moisture well, even if you accidentally overcook them. The downside is that the meat can taste a little saltier than other turkeys.
- Self-basting or injected. Turkeys labeled as self-basted or injected are already treated with brine and seasonings. The downside is that the texture can turn out stringy or mushy.
2. Allow time to thaw
You can’t stroll into the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving, buy a frozen turkey, and expect it to be ready the next day.
“The biggest mistake I see is waiting until the day of Thanksgiving to start thawing,” Danckers says. “Your turkey will need about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey to fully thaw.”
Where should you thaw it?
“In the refrigerator,” Danckers says. “That’s the safest way.”
3. Consider going fresh
Buying a fresh turkey from a local farmer or butcher can help support a small business owner — plus you’re more likely to have a turkey that was pasture-raised instead of bred in a factory.
If you do go the fresh route, plan to buy it about one to two days before Thanksgiving and keep it in a pan in your fridge. Call ahead to reserve your turkey, as most places sell out the week of.
4. Check the shape
A turkey with a well-rounded breast is a good indicator that it’ll be juicier.
Also, look for flat spots — this can signal that it was thawed and re-frozen, raising the risk of food-borne illness.
5. Prep it for cooking
You don’t have to be a culinary pro to make a juicy turkey that everyone will love. All it takes is time — and these tips — to season and roast the perfect turkey. (And don’t forget to make some tasty side dishes, too!)