There are a lot of decisions the Thanksgiving host has to make. Cranberry sauce; fresh or canned? A side of carrots or corn? Pumpkin or apple pie? (That answer there is easy. Both!). But perhaps the most important question of them all: How many pounds of turkey do I need to buy?

How much turkey should i buy per person?

As a rule of thumb, you should aim for about 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person. Don’t forget that number takes into considering the weight of the bones, giblets, and a bit of leftovers too.

That means, if you’re having 8 adult guests, you’re going to want a 12 pound turkey. Of course, if you have a bunch of big eaters or turkey lovers — or think you might get a few unexpected last minute guests — you’ll want to go up from there.

When should you buy your turkey?

Frozen turkeys need anywhere from two to eight days to defrost in the fridge, so if you’re buying frozen, you’re going to need to have it in-hand at least that many days in advance. For every four pounds your turkey weighs, you’ll need one day (24 hours) to let it thaw. So if you buy an 18 pound turkey, you’ll need at least 4 1/2 days to let it thaw.

How do you safely defrost a turkey?

The easiest and safest way to defrost a turkey is to let it rest in the refrigerator, however, this method requires some forethought, as this can take several days. You will need to allow 24 hours for every four pounds of turkey, so if you have an 18-pound turkey, you’ll need 4 1/2 days of sit time in the fridge.

To thaw a turkey using this method, remove your turkey from the freezer. Keep it in its original wrapping, and place it on a baking sheet with raised edges, breast-side-up. Clear plenty of space on the bottom shelf of your fridge (to keep any raw dripping from contaminating your other food). Remember, your bird will need to remain there for 24 hours for every four pounds.

Quick turkey thaw math:

Weight (lbs) of your turkey / 4 = how many days your turkey needs to thaw in the fridge

If you forget to thaw the turkey, and it’s the day before Thanksgiving, what can you do?

You can save your Thanksgiving feast with a cold-water thaw. Place your frozen bird in the sink or in a tub or cooler, and fill with cold tap water. To keep the water temperature safe (not too warm to breed bacteria), you’ll need to swap out the water for new cold water about every 30 minutes. For every pound of turkey, you’ll need to do this method for about a half hour, so  if you have a 12 pound bird, it will take you 6 hours to defrost.

How long can a thawed turkey sit in the fridge?

A thawed turkey will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. This means, if you take your bird out on Monday, and don’t cook it until Thanksgiving Thursday, it’ll be just fine.

Should you wash your turkey before cooking it?

Never. You’ll do more harm than good. When you wash your bird in the sink, you’re more likely to splash raw juices on nearby appliances, countertops and dish towels and potentially contaminate them with salmonella. Instead, just pat your turkey day, inside and out, with some paper towels before seasoning per your recipe.

What temperature do you cook a turkey at?

The classic Thanksgiving turkey is typically cooked at 325ºF.

How long do you cook a turkey?

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends roasting a turkey at 325ºF for about 25 minutes per pound. So, a 12-pound turkey, for example, would need to roast for 3 hours.

How can you tell a turkey is done?

The turkey needs to reach the internal temperature of 165ºF. The only way to guarantee this safe temperature is to check with a meat thermometer. Take the bird’s temperature in the thickest part of the breast, thigh, and wing. (It’s best not to rely just on the pop-up thermometers.)

How long do leftovers last?

Cooked turkey can be safely stored in the refrigerator and eaten up to four days after Thanksgiving.

Also see, Why you shouldn’t stuff your turkey the traditional way. 

Follow us on Instagram.




Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.