Thanksgiving Turkey 101

Q. How much turkey do I need?

A. The basic rule of thumb is one pound per person being served (1.5 lbs to 2 lbs if you want leftovers or have big eaters). The larger the turkey (20+ lbs), you can cut back on that one-pound allowance. Larger turkeys yield more edible meat per pound than smaller turkeys. In the same way smaller birds (10 lbs or less) yield less edible meat per pound.

Party SizeTurkey Weight
4 People5 lbs
8 People10-12 lbs
10 People13-15 lbs
12 People15-17 lbs
14 People20-22 lbs
16 People22-24 lbs

Q. What is brining?

A. Brining a turkey is the process of adding salt to the turkey either by dry rubbing the turkey with salt or soaking it in a wet marinade of water, salt, and spices. Dry brining is usually done for a period of 12–24 hours while wet brining is done for 8–12 hours. Both methods will add flavor to your turkey and help with tenderness.

Q. Should I brine my turkey?

A. People with sodium restrictions should avoid brining. If you are looking to enhance the flavor of your turkey, brining is an easy solution. Adding flavor can also be accomplished with a good stuffing recipe and a fresh turkey gravy made with the turkey drippings after cooking.

Q. If I buy a frozen turkey, how long will it take to thaw?

A. There are two methods commonly used to defrost frozen turkeys. The easiest is to place the frozen turkey in your refrigerator for approximately one day for every five pounds that the turkey weighs before you are planning to cook it (ex: 15 lb turkey 3 days). The quicker method is to place it in cold water, still in the bag in which it came in. This cuts time to approximately to 1/2 hour for every pound of turkey (ex: 15 lb turkey 7.5 hours). Be sure to change the water every 30–45 minutes.

Q. How long should I cook my turkey?

A. Preparation for cooking a turkey will help with cooking times. As with any piece of meat, the closer to room temperature it is before cooking, the faster and more evenly it will cook. An unstuffed turkey that is at room temperature will need to cook 13–15 minutes per pound. A turkey that has been stuffed with a bread stuffing will need 15–18 minutes per pound. You should always use a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the turkey has reached 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh meat.

Q. What are giblets and what do I do with them?

A. Turkey giblets consist of the neck, gizzard, heart, and liver of the turkey. You’ll want to remove them before cooking. They can be used to make a broth base for your turkey gravy by simmering them in a saucepan while your turkey cooks. The liver can be used in the stuffing for added flavor.