Simplify turkey day this year. 

By Melanie Fincher
October 22, 2020
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Small turkey with carrots and parsnips on white platter
Credit: Constatine Poulos/Meredith

Thanksgiving might look different for a lot of folks this year, turkey included. If you're cooking for one or two, or simply looking to spare yourself the effort that goes into roasting a large turkey, consider cooking a small turkey this year. 

There are many advantages to cooking a smaller bird, and we'll get into those later. Consider this your guide to buying and cooking a small turkey. 

family celebrating thanksgiving
Credit: skynesher/Getty Images

Why a Small Turkey? 

You may choose to cook a small turkey this year for a number of reasons. Maybe you can't be with extended family this year so you're cooking for fewer people. Or maybe you simply want to focus on the sides (we all know they're the best part). But cooking a small turkey for Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a sad affair. In fact a smaller turkey has quite a few advantages over the more traditional jumbo turkey. 

Small turkeys are easier to cook than large ones, plain and simple. For one, their size makes them easier to pull in and out of the oven for basting. But more importantly, it's much easier to get moist, juicy meat and perfectly golden-brown skin when you're cooking a small turkey. 

When it comes to roasting, turkey is somewhat of a flawed bird. It's sheer size makes it difficult to cook all the way through without burning the skin or drying out the meat. That's why a smaller turkey is all going to make your life easier, and give you a better result in the end. 

What Size Is Considered a "Small" Turkey? 

It's important to set realistic expectations when buying a small turkey — you're not going to find one the size of a cornish game hen or chicken. You'll find that most "small turkeys" range in size from 10 to 14 pounds, although you may be able to find them as small as 6 pounds. 

So how much turkey will you need for a small gathering? As a general rule, estimate about 1 pound for serving, give or take a little. This means a 10-pound turkey will serve about 8-10 people. 

If you want to go even smaller (say if you're cooking for one or two), you can always consider a turkey breast instead. But we would argue that having some leftover turkey is never a bad thing. 

If you prefer dark meat, try this recipe for Herb-Roasted Turkey Thighs.

Where to Buy a Small Turkey 

Shopping early is key if you want the best selection of smaller turkeys. Try major supermarkets like Kroger, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods for the best selection. 

Farmer Focus offers organic, free-range heirloom turkeys that average just 13 pounds in size. You can find Farmer Focus products at all Fresh Thyme, select Kroger locations, and online through Fresh Direct

How Long to Cook a Small Turkey 

Cooking a small turkey is no different than cooking a larger turkey, aside from the cooking time — learn how to cook a turkey here

The general rule for cooking a turkey is 20 minutes per pound. Refer to our turkey cooking time guide for more information. Here's a quick breakdown of cooking times for turkeys under 14 pounds:

Small Turkey Cooking Time Guide 

Keep in mind these are estimates, and the most accurate way to check for doneness is to use an instant read thermometer. To temp a turkey insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The turkey is done once the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Here are some general cooking times for an unstuffed, whole turkey cooked at 350 degrees F. 

  • 6-10 pounds: 2 to 3 hours
  • 10-14 pounds: 3 to 4 hours

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