6 Thanksgiving planning tips

Thanksgiving table with turkey, stuffing and rolls

Today’s Thanksgiving meal looks a lot different than the first Thanksgiving gathering almost 400 years ago. Since that feast, we’ve added sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and a host of other dishes to our spreads.

Are you hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? We’ve gathered up 5 tips to help you get organized for the holiday.

1. Finalize your guest list

In order to know what size turkey you need to feed everyone, you need to know how many people you’re serving:

  • If you’re buying the whole bird, estimate one pound per person.
  • If you’re buying a boneless turkey breast, figure for ½ pound per person.
  • If you’re buying a turkey breast, estimate ¾ pound per person.
  • If you’re buying a pre-stuffed frozen turkey, you’ll need 1 ¼ pounds per person.

2. Defrost the turkey

Carving turkeyDid you know that it takes days to properly thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator?

  • 4 to 12 lb. turkey takes 1 to 3 days to thaw
  • 12 to 16 lb. turkey takes 3 to 4 days to thaw
  • 16 to 20 lb. turkey takes 4 to 5 days to thaw
  • 20 to 24 lb. turkey takes 5 to 6 days to thaw

3. Stuff your own turkey

If you’re stuffing your own turkey, make sure the stuffing is moist. And stuff loosely. As soon as your turkey is stuffed, put it in the oven to cook. The length of time you’ll need to cook your stuffed turkey depends on its size. The following sizes of fresh or thawed turkeys will cook at 325 degrees F at the times listed:

  • 8 to 12 lb. turkey cooks in 3 to 3 ½ hours
  • 12 to 14 lb. turkey cooks in 3 ½ to 4 hours
  • 14 to 18 lb. turkey cooks in 4 to 4 ¼ hours
  • 18 to 20 lb. turkey cooks in 4 ¼ to 4 ¾ hours
  • 20 to 24 lb. turkey cooks in 4 ¾ to 5 ¼ hours

Use a meat thermometer to ensure that your turkey is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

4. Figure out portions

For gravy, estimate ⅓ cup for every person. Add an extra cup for every six people. This breaks down to:

  • 4 people: 2 cups
  • 8 people: 4 cups
  • 12 people: 6 cups
  • 16 people: 7 ½ cupscranberries

For cranberry sauce, estimate ⅓ to ½ cup for every person. That means:

  • 4 people: 2 cups
  • 8 people: 4 cups
  • 12 people: 6 cups
  • 16 people: 8 cups

For stuffing and mashed potatoes, estimate ¾ cup for every person. It breaks down like this:

  • 4 people: 3 cups
  • 8 people: 6 cups
  • 12 people: 9 cups
  • 16 people: 12 cups

For rolls, have a half dozen for every 4 people.

For vegetables, have one pound for every 4 people (estimate that each person will eat 4 ounces).

pumpkin pieFor pie, you can usually get 6-8 pieces out of a 9-inch pan. It’s safe to have one pie for every 4 people.

For beverages like coffee and tea, plan for one cup per person.

5. Clean up

Put leftover turkey in the refrigerator within two hours. Bacteria can rapidly multiply on foods sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours. Leftover turkey (and stuffing) stored in the refrigerator should be consumed within 3-4 days. You can also freeze leftover turkey for later use.

6. Deal with leftovers

There aren’t too many people who will complain about Thanksgiving leftovers. Here are 10 next-day uses for leftover turkey that easily beat out the classic cold turkey sandwich.


Sources: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Network

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Katie Woods grew up in Columbiana, Ohio. Katie likes reading, writing, enjoying the outdoors and DIY projects.



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