Choosing a Thanksgiving Turkey: How to Plan for the Right Amount of Leftovers

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Turkey-stuffing sandwiches, turkey casserole, turkey chili, turkey pasta, turkey tacos, turkey soup... Sure, I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner — it's my favorite holiday, both culinary and otherwise! But it's those delicious leftovers I'll be dreaming about in my late afternoon tryptophan nap.

In some families, the tradition of a late night Thanksgiving snack is almost as important as the meal itself. So, how do you choose a turkey and make sure you'll have enough left for all the yummy leftovers?

Whether you're hosting a Thanksgiving for four guests or 24, cooking the right amount is always a challenge. Not only should there be the right amount for Thanksgiving dinner, but also for those delicious leftovers. How terrible was it the year we actually hit the magic spot in properly calculating the amount of turkey per person, leaving nearly zero leftovers? Let's just say my stuffing-cranberry sandwiches were good, but not great.

The Turkey Rule of Thumb

If you want to have just enough turkey, the rule of thumb is simple:

Having fourteen people to Thanksgiving dinner? Buy a 14-pound turkey. Simple.

The Turkey Rule of Thumb + Leftovers

But now let's consider the leftovers. If you're like my family and you'd like plenty of leftovers, consider including an extra half pound for every person. That way everyone can get a turkey omelet in the morning.

So, to stick with our math here, if you're having fourteen people to dinner, you'd want to buy a 21-pound turkey (or maybe two smaller turkeys).

The Turkey Breast Option

One added obstacle in my family is that most people really only like the white meat. We might all pretend otherwise, but the truth is that everyone would prefer a slice of the breast meat on their plate, leaving the extra dark meat to be made into soups, chili, and casserole. There's always talk of cooking just a turkey breast, but whenever I'm shopping at the grocery it looks so underwhelming. I love the presentation of a glistening, crispy bird at the table, and to prepare only the breast meat seems like a cop-out with our typically traditional dinner. Perhaps this year we'll give it a go. Either way — I can guarantee there will be leftovers.

How much turkey do you usually buy for Thanksgiving? Do you plan for leftovers? Or do you leave the turkey and all the trimmings for the Thanksgiving table only?

(Image credits: Emma Christensen)

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