When turkey is the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving feast, you want there to be enough for everyone at the table — and then some. Read on for a handy turkey serving chart as well as other buying tips.

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Perfect Turkey on a white dish with faux leaves and cranberries
Credit: Cynthia Taylor

Here are some of the key questions you'll want to ask yourself before you buy a Thanksgiving turkey so you'll make the right decisions:

How Much Turkey Per Person?

One of the most frequently asked questions is what size turkey to buy. The rule of thumb is 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person with leftovers and 1 pound of turkey per person without leftovers. If your guest list includes a lot of kids, lean towards a smaller size turkey. If your guests are big eaters, lean towards a larger turkey. This turkey serving chart can help with suggested amounts based on the number of adults you're planning for, and whether or not you want leftovers.

Number of Adults Pounds of Turkey (with leftovers) Pounds of Turkey (without leftovers)

2 to 4

3 to 6

2 to 4

6 to 8

9 to 12

6 to 8

10 to 12

15 to 18

10 to 12

14 to 16

21 to 24

14 to 16

18 to 20

27 to 30

18 to 20

22 to 24

33 to 36

22 to 24

When In Doubt, Go Bigger

If you still aren't sure how much turkey to buy, always err on the bigger side. Having extra turkey at the end of the meal is always better than running out of turkey before everyone's ready for dessert. Plus, you'll have plenty of turkey for leftovers.

If turkey leftovers seem daunting, or if you know you won't have time to immediately deal with them, remember that you can easily freeze the turkey meat and carcass for another day. This will ensure you don't waste a single bit of that big, beautiful bird!

Thanksgiving turkey on a platter surrounded by side dishes
Credit: Meredith

Should You Buy Fresh or Frozen Turkey?

Buying a fresh turkey or a frozen one depends on your time, preference, and resources: A fresh turkey usually costs more but doesn't need thawing. Some find fresh turkeys more flavorful than frozen. Frozen turkeys are less expensive, but you'll need to plan ahead to give the turkey enough time to thaw before cooking, about one day for every five pounds of turkey.

thawing turkey in the fridge
Credit: Meredith

What do Turkey Package Labels Mean?

Here are a few of the labels you might find on the package when you go turkey shopping, and more importantly, what they mean:

Self-Basting: The meat has been injected with a flavored solution that adds moisture during roasting. While this can free you up from brining and basting, you won't have complete control over how the meat tastes or how much sodium is in the basting liquid itself.

Natural: The turkey has been minimally processed without added flavors, brines, rubs, or salt. You get to choose exactly how to flavor your bird.

Organic: The turkey was raised without antibiotics in its feed. To ensure your turkey is truly organic, look for the label USDA Organic.

Kosher: The turkey has been brined with kosher salt during processing. This helps the meat retain moisture, but it also means you should not use a salted brine or dry rub when you cook it; that will only make it saltier.

Free-Range or Cage-Free: Turkeys are raised in a facility where they are allowed to roam for some part of the day.

Heritage: This term is used to describe turkey breeds that meet standards set by the American Poultry Association. In general, heritage turkeys are closer to the wild indigenous breeds the pilgrims might have feasted upon back in the day. And yes, they're a whole lot pricier than commercially bred turkeys. But many turkey-fanciers say they prefer the deeper flavor of heritage turkeys.

To learn more about where your turkey came from and how it was raised, you can talk to your butcher or contact your turkey farmer. If you're interested in specialty turkeys such as heritage breeds or those raised on organic farms, you may have to order those a month or more in advance.

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