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Thanksgiving cheat sheet: Serving sizes, roasting times and more

How big turkey should you get? Figure 11/2 pounds per persif you want plenty leftovers.  |  Matthew Mead~AP

How big a turkey should you get? Figure 11/2 pounds per person, if you want plenty of leftovers. | Matthew Mead~AP

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Updated: December 21, 2011 8:00AM

All serving estimates are generous to allow for plenty of seconds and leftovers.

How big?

For turkeys under 16 pounds, estimate 1 pound per serving (this accounts for bone weight). For larger birds, a bit less is fine; they have a higher meat-to-bone ratio. But if your goal is to have ample leftovers, aim for 11/2 pounds per person whatever the turkey’s size.

◆ For 8 people, buy a 12-pound turkey

◆ For 10 people, buy a 15-pound turkey

◆ For 12 people, buy an 18-pound turkey

◆ For 14 people, buy a 20-pound turkey

The big thaw

The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. You’ll need about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. You also can put the turkey in a sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, and plan for about 30 minutes per pound.

The brine

Never brine a turkey for more than about 8 to 10 hours. Much longer and the meat will be too salty. Always keep the bird refrigerated during brining. If the turkey is too big, an ice-filled cooler stored outside works, too.

The roast

The following roasting time estimates are based on a stuffed turkey cooked at 325 degrees. Reduce cooking time by 20 to 40 minutes for turkeys that are not stuffed. And remember, a crowded oven cooks more slowly, so plan ahead if your bird needs to share the space.

◆ 12-pound turkey: 3 to 4 hours at 325 degrees

◆ 15-pound turkey: 4 to 41/2 hours at 325 degrees

◆ 18-pound turkey: 41/2 to 5 hours at 325 degrees

◆ 20-pound turkey: 5 to 6 hours at 325 degrees

The rest

The turkey should never go directly from the oven to the table. Like most meat, it needs to rest at least 20 minutes before serving for the juices to redistribute.

The sides

Carrots: a 1-pound bag makes 4 to 5 servings

Cranberry sauce: a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries makes about 21/4 cups of sauce; a 16-ounce can has 6 servings

Gravy: plan for 1/3 cup of gravy per person

Green beans: 11/2 pounds of beans makes 6 to 8 servings

Mashed potatoes: a 5-pound bag of potatoes makes 10 to 12 servings

Stuffing: a 14-ounce bag of stuffing makes about 11 servings


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