How big of a turkey should you buy and how much turkey breast per person at Thanksgiving?

How big of a turkey should you buy and how much turkey breast per person at Thanksgiving?
Source: AP
Source: AP

You bought the best looking turkey in your grocery store's freezer section, lugged it home and cleared out your fridge to make room for the 15-pound bird. After hours of prepping and stuffing and cooking and roasting and carving and suddenly you've served the 17th guest around the table and what, the platter is so light ... you're out of turkey?! How is that even possible?

It's a Thanksgiving nightmare. Let's keep it a fictional one and go through the proper steps to finding the perfect amount of Turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner.

How hungry are your guests?
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How to pick the right size turkey

When choosing a Thanksgiving turkey, you'll want to buy per pound, not by just how large a turkey looks! If you don't have room for a 20-pounder in your fridge or oven, buy some turkey drumsticks or breasts to supplement the whole turkey. 

Queen of Thanksgiving Martha Stewart recommends one and a half pounds of turkey per guest, meaning a turkey to serve 20 people should weigh 30 pounds, which is about the weight of two miniature poodles, three infants, or six five-pound hand weights. 

So yes, heavy.  Turkeys also have a bunch of parts you won't eat (the carcass and giblets, to start) so consider going for two fifteen pound birds if you're serving a big crowd. 

Pick the right turkey
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How much turkey breast per person should you serve? 

Because it loses plenty of liquid while cooking, a pound of raw turkey shrinks up to be much less than a pound on your plate, so don't mistakenly think that every guest is chowing down on a whole pound of turkey. 

A healthy serving size of turkey should be about the size of a deck of cards or 4 oz., which is a third of a pound. 

If you're in charge of carving, try to cut pieces that are about this size or smaller to encourage guests to enjoy a healthy portion (and maybe to keep over zealous guests from loading up half their plate with far more than their allotted turkey portion...) 

Eat up!
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A serving of turkey has about 291 calories, 39 grams of protein and 13.6 grams of fat, which is 21% of your daily recommended value. With so many tasty (read: buttery) sides and desserts waiting, who wants to fill up on turkey anyway? 

Stick with a pound and a half of raw turkey per person, and everyone will be stuffed with their fair share of the Thanksgiving staple.