How Many Pounds of Turkey Per Person?

How Many Pounds of Turkey Per Person?

Scratching your head before Thanksgiving? Too many guests, perhaps? Well, let’s start with the big-ticket item – turkey. The rest will fall in place.

General rules of thumb about how much turkey you need will depend on a few things – including the number of guests, of course, but also whether you’re buying the bird with bones or just boneless breast meat, whether your guests are big eaters, so on and so forth. Let’s stick with buying the traditional whole bird(s) for now.

How many pounds of turkey per person? Estimates of how much whole (bone-in) turkey to buy vary between 1 lb. per guest to 1.5 lbs. per guest. To be on the safe side, assume you need at least 1.25 lbs. of whole (uncooked) turkey per guest. Adjust up or down based on whether your guests happen to be big, small or medium eaters.

If you don’t know all your guests well, you may consider going up to one-and-a-half lbs. to the on the safe side. After all, there are always leftovers.

How to Order/Choose Turkey Based on Number of Guests

The table below shows the amount of uncooked whole turkey to purchase, adjusting for bone weight being included, for two groups of guests – one that has a mix of small, medium and big eaters, and the other with mostly big eaters.

The average amount recommended is 1.25 lbs. per person with the average eaters’ group and 1.5 lbs. per person with the big eaters’ group.

# of Guests Mix of Small, Medium ; Big Eaters Mostly Big Eaters
4 5 lbs. 6 lbs.
6 7.5 lbs. 9 lbs.
8 10 lbs. 12 lbs.
10 12.5 lbs. 15 lbs.
12 15 lbs. 18 lbs.
16 20 lbs. 24 lbs. (2 smaller birds)
18 22.5 lbs. (2 smaller birds) 27 lbs. (2 smaller birds)
20 25 lbs. (2 smaller birds) 30 lbs. (2 smaller birds)

The estimates shown above point out an additional consideration – a really large bird (one exceeding 20 lbs.) will tend to dry out faster and deliver less of that tender flavor you are looking to produce for your guests.

Get Multiple, Smaller Turkeys for a Large Number of Guests

As the table shows, when the number of guests (and your calculation of how many lbs. of turkey are required) go up, it would behoove you to procure two smaller sized turkey, instead of one giant bird, when the weight requirements creep up above 20 lbs.

So, for example, instead of buying a 24 lb. whole turkey, consider buying two 10-14 lbs. birds, or perhaps a 14 lb. whole bird and breast meat (see below for how much).

This way, you will be able to produce two succulent birds for your guests, instead of one dried out bird – its difficult to avoid overdoing the outside when you are trying to cook the deep insides of a large bird.

One consideration for you may be oven space – but unless you are severely constrained in that regard, we would recommend getting smaller, more succulent birds.

How to Differentiate Requirements between Whole Turkey and Breast Meat

Boneless turkey breast meat will usually translate into a 50% conversion ratio in terms of requirement per guest. So if you are entertaining big eaters, consider buying ¾ of a lb. of breast meat per person. If you are hosting a group of average eaters, five-eighth of a lb. of breast meat should be a good rule of thumb.

In the example above, if you are entertaining guests and buying either boneless turkey breast meat or (for bigger parties) mixing in a smaller whole bird and also buying boneless breast meat, you will need the following proportions:

# of Guests Mix of Small, Medium ; Big Eaters Mostly Big Eaters
4 2.5 lbs. meat 3 lbs. meat
6 3.75 lbs. meat 4.5 lbs. meat
8 5 lbs. meat 6 lbs. meat
10 6.25 lbs. meat 7.5 lbs. meat
12 7.5 lbs. meat 9 lbs. meat
16 10 lbs. meat 6 lbs. meat + one 12-lb. bird
18 5 lbs. meat + one 12.5-lb. bird 6.5 lbs. meat + one 14-lb. birds
20 6.5 lbs. meat + one 12-lb. bird 8 lbs. meat + one 14-lb. bird

As the table above shows, different types of mix and matches are possible. It’s your call on whether you want to be on the safe side or plan in relatively precise amounts according to one of the tables above.

What Else to Get and in What Amount?

Along with turkey, you will need a variety of other ingredients/dishes to complete your Thanksgiving menu. The proportions of turkey will also vary based on the number of dishes – starters, entrees, sides and desserts – you offer your guests along with libations.

The chart below presents some rough estimates to get you started on some popular sides, assuming that your guests are average eaters:

  • Dry Mix Stuffing – 1 lb. per person
  • Cranberry Sauce – 4 oz. per person
  • Potatoes – between 1/3 to ½ lb. per person
  • Sweet Potatoes – between 1/3 to ½ lb. per person
  • Butternut Squash – ½ lb. per person
  • Green Beans – ¼ lb. per person
  • Brussel Sprouts – 2-3 oz. per person
  • Creamed Spinach – 3-4 oz. per person
  • Pies/Dessert – flexible, but you could use the proportion of one 9.5” pie per 3-4 guests
  • Salads – use your judgement

While you may want to adjust these proportions upwards for big eaters, you should also be aware that with large parties, you should tone down on these proportions unless you love leftovers – lots and lots of them.

Final Thoughts

Cooking turkey for big occasions with family and friends can be a pleasure, before and during the meals. If you plan a bit carefully, and follow the guidelines above, you can take out the guessing and stress involved in the planning and cooking part of it.

Bottom line – if you know your guests really well and trust your cooking skills, stay on the cusp of the numbers presented above. If you believe that there may be some room for people to eat more, adjust upwards by 10-20% of the limits. However, 1.5 lbs. of whole turkey per person should be about as much as your guests would ever eat.