Food & Drink

Thanksgiving — we do the math, you do the cooking

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is enough of a pressure cooker, never mind having to do on-the-fly math to get it right. Here are all the numbers you need to have a safe, worry-free and delicious Turkey Day dinner.

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.

If your goal is plenty of leftovers, aim for 1 1/2 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 the process to take 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 is fine, too.

THE ROAST

Roasting temperatures vary widely by recipe. Some go at a slow and steady 325. Others crank the heat to 400 or 425 for the first hour, then drop it down for the rest of the time.

However you roast, use an instant read thermometer inserted at the innermost part of the thigh (without touching bone) to determine when your turkey is done. The meat needs to hit 165 for safe eating, though some people say thigh meat tastes better at 170.

The following roasting time estimates are based on a stuffed turkey cooked at 325 F. 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 space.

12-pound turkey: 3 to 4 hours at 325

15-pound turkey: 4 to 4 1/2 hours at 325

18-pound turkey: 4 1/2 to 5 hours at 325

20-pound turkey: 5 to 6 hours at 325

THE REST

The turkey should never go directly from the oven to the table. Let it rest at least 20 minutes.

THE SIDES

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

Cranberry sauce: a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries makes about 2 1/4 cups of sauce; a 16-ounce can serves 6.

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

Green beans: 1 1/2 pounds 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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