How Much Turkey per Person? Use This Rule of Thumb.

updated Nov 1, 2023
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The best thing about Thanksgiving (aside from spending it with friends and family) is the star of the show: the roasted turkey. But how much turkey will you need per person attending? And should you account for extra guests?

The day of Thanksgiving, you’ll want to eat your bird with piles of turkey gravy, and let’s not forget about the days of leftover sandwiches slathered with cranberry sauce. So, if you’re like me, having too little turkey can be a total disaster. Here’s a simple rule for knowing how much turkey you need per person at your Thanksgiving table.

Quick Overview

How Much Turkey per Person Do You Need?

Once you have a good count for how many attendees you’ll have for Thanksgiving, use this rule: Have at least 1 pound per person who will be attending your Thanksgiving dinner. If you’d like to have a lot of leftovers, aim for 1 1/2 pounds per person.

Credit: Design: Kitchn

How many pounds of turkey per person do you need?

To make sure you have plenty of turkey for Thanksgiving dinner with enough for leftovers and doggie bags, remember this simple rule to know how much turkey you’ll need: Be sure to account for at least 1 pound per person that will be attending.

This is a brilliantly simple rule to follow any time you’re cooking meat on the bone, but this is especially perfect for the holidays when Thanksgiving leftovers are key for feeding out-of-town guests throughout the weekend. If you really, really like leftovers and are perfectly content to eat turkey sandwiches until your head falls off, then a pound-and-a-half per person will do the trick.

Maybe this rule leads you to buying two turkeys instead of one giant one, or maybe you’ve been buying too big a bird this whole time. No longer, folks — this is your answer! Just remember “one pound per person” and you’ll be set come the big day, and all the turkey sandwiches that follow.

How much turkey per person do you need to have leftovers?

If you are planning on having some turkey to send home or to make some leftover turkey recipes, then follow this alternate rule: Make sure you account for 1 1/2 pounds per person attending if you want a good amount of leftovers. While not every guest will eat 1 to 1 1/2 pounds’ worth of turkey, this is a go-to rule of thumb to know how much turkey you need for the day of as well as the Thanksgiving aftermath. Additionally, this is a good way to account for a couple of guests that might be unexpected.

If you need a place to stash leftovers, we recommend Pyrex bowls for easy storage. And for those few pounds of your Thanksgiving turkey that come as bones, turn them into turkey stock to last you until next Thanksgiving.

How much turkey do you need for a large crowd?

The same rule of thumb (at least 1 pound per person) applies when you’re feeding a large crowd, but if you’d like to make things easier — and you have the oven space — just buy two turkeys instead of one giant turkey. This will speed up the cook time and it’ll also guarantee that you won’t have a fight over the turkey legs.

How much turkey for a small Thanksgiving?

If you’re hosting a smaller Thanksgiving (with four people or fewer), consider skipping roasting the whole bird and opt for roasting just turkey breasts or turkey legs. But, if you still want to cook a whole turkey, opt for a 6-pounder. Bonus: You’ll have plenty of leftovers for days.

What if your guests have a preference for light or dark meat?

If you know you have some guests who have a preference for either dark meat or light meat, the best thing to do is pick up a few extra turkey breasts and some extra legs so that you can ensure everyone gets their favorite cut.

How do you buy a turkey?

In addition to knowing how much meat you’ll want per person, there are a few other things to consider when buying a Thanksgiving turkey:

  • Fresh or frozen: Fresh turkeys have never been stored below 26 degrees and need to be purchased 1-2 days before Thanksgiving. Frozen turkeys are flash-frozen below 0 degrees and can be purchased defrosted (it’ll be labeled previously frozen). Though fresh turkeys can taste slightly better than frozen, a frozen turkey is best for planning ahead.
  • Type of turkey: There are several types of turkeys, including self-basting, natural, kosher, free-range, organic, and heritage turkeys. Self-basting are the cheapest (they’re typically factory raised) and heritage turkeys (breeds that were raised on farms before factory farming existed) are the most expensive.
  • How big your oven is: Most standard freestanding ovens are 30 inches wide, which can accommodate a turkey that is 24 to 26 pounds. A 30-inch wall oven can handle a turkey up to 35 pounds. The most important thing to remember is that you’ll need at least 1 inch of space on all sides of the oven when cooking a turkey.