How much turkey per person?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: June 24, 2024

When planning a turkey dinner, whether for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other festive occasion, determining how much turkey to serve per person is crucial. This guide will help you navigate the details, ensuring you have enough to satisfy your guests without excessive leftovers.

General Guidelines

The rule of thumb often cited by seasoned cooks and culinary experts is to allocate 1 to 1.5 pounds of turkey per person. This general guideline accounts for the uncooked weight and includes the bones. Here's a quick breakdown:

  • Light Eaters: 1 pound per person
  • Average Eaters: 1.25 pounds per person
  • Hearty Eaters: 1.5 pounds per person

These estimates ensure everyone gets enough meat while also accounting for the bones and any shrinkage during cooking.

Factors Influencing Turkey Quantity

Several variables can influence the amount of turkey you need. Consider the following factors:

Type of Meal

Is turkey the main course, or part of a buffet with multiple protein options? If it's the primary dish, stick to the 1 to 1.5 pounds rule. For a buffet, you might reduce the amount to 0.75 to 1 pound per person.

Number of Side Dishes

More side dishes mean guests may eat less turkey. If you're serving a variety of dishes, like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and casseroles, you can lean towards the lower end of the guideline.

Leftovers Preferences

Do you want leftovers for sandwiches, soups, or additional meals? If so, increase your calculation to 1.5 to 2 pounds per person to ensure plenty of turkey for the days following your feast.

Guest Demographics

The age and appetite of your guests can also play a role. Young children and older adults may eat less, while teenagers and adults with hearty appetites may consume more.

Special Considerations

Beyond the general guidelines, there are special considerations that might affect your turkey calculations:

Bone-In vs. Boneless Turkey

Bone-in turkeys are more common and traditional for holiday meals. However, boneless turkeys are available and can be easier to carve. For boneless turkey, reduce the weight per person to about 0.75 to 1 pound since there's no bone weight to account for.

Frozen vs. Fresh Turkey

Fresh turkeys can sometimes have less water weight compared to frozen ones, which might be injected with a saline solution. This can slightly affect the weight, but generally, it won't make a significant difference in the amount of turkey needed per person.

Cooking Methods

The method of cooking can influence the yield of your turkey. Roasted turkeys might shrink more compared to deep-fried ones. Smoking a turkey can also result in a different texture and weight reduction. Keep this in mind when planning how much turkey to prepare.

Practical Examples

Let's put the guidelines into practice with some examples:

Small Gathering

For a dinner with 6 people:

  • Light Eaters: 6 pounds (1 pound per person)
  • Average Eaters: 7.5 pounds (1.25 pounds per person)
  • Hearty Eaters: 9 pounds (1.5 pounds per person)

Medium Gathering

For a dinner with 10 people:

  • Light Eaters: 10 pounds (1 pound per person)
  • Average Eaters: 12.5 pounds (1.25 pounds per person)
  • Hearty Eaters: 15 pounds (1.5 pounds per person)

Large Gathering

For a dinner with 20 people:

  • Light Eaters: 20 pounds (1 pound per person)
  • Average Eaters: 25 pounds (1.25 pounds per person)
  • Hearty Eaters: 30 pounds (1.5 pounds per person)

Advanced Tips

For those looking to delve deeper into the art of turkey preparation, consider these advanced tips:


Brining your turkey can enhance moisture and flavor. A wet brine involves soaking the turkey in a saltwater solution, while a dry brine involves rubbing the turkey with salt and spices. Both methods can slightly increase the weight, so factor this into your calculations.


If you plan to stuff your turkey, consider the additional weight and cooking time required. A stuffed turkey may yield slightly less edible meat per pound due to the space occupied by the stuffing.

Carving and Serving

Efficient carving techniques can maximize the amount of meat you get from your turkey. Consider watching tutorial videos or practicing with smaller birds before the big event.

Turkey Calculator Tools

To simplify your planning, many online turkey calculators are available. These tools can provide a more precise estimate based on your specific needs and preferences. Simply input the number of guests, their appetite levels, and whether you want leftovers, and the calculator will do the rest.

While these guidelines provide a solid foundation, the best approach to determining how much turkey per person is to consider your unique circumstances and preferences. Each gathering is different, and by taking into account the type of meal, the number of side dishes, leftovers, and your guests' appetites, you can ensure a satisfying and memorable meal for everyone.

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