How many people can you feed with a 20 lb turkey?

As the holidays approach, many people are tasked with cooking large turkeys to feed family and friends. A common question that arises is, “How many people can I feed with a 20 pound turkey?” Here are some quick answers:

Depends on serving size

The number of people a 20 lb turkey can feed depends largely on the serving size. Experts recommend planning for 1/3 to 1/2 pound of turkey per person. So a 20 lb turkey would feed:

  • 40 people if serving 1/3 pound portions
  • 30 people if serving 1/2 pound portions

Factor in bones and waste

The actual amount of meat that can be served from a turkey is less than the total weight. About 30% of the weight is in the bones, neck, and giblets. So for a 20 lb turkey:

  • Total meat is about 14 lbs
  • If serving 1/3 lb portions, could feed 42 people
  • If serving 1/2 lb portions, could feed 28 people

White vs. dark meat

Turkeys have both white and dark meat, which have different yields:

  • White meat is about 40% of turkey weight
  • Dark meat is about 60%

For a 20 lb turkey:

  • 8 lbs white meat
  • 12 lbs dark meat

This affects how many servings can be obtained if people have preferences for one type over the other.


To ensure enough food is prepared, it’s best to cook a turkey that is larger than the minimum needed. Leftover turkey can be used in many creative ways:

  • Sandwiches
  • Casseroles
  • Soup
  • Salads
  • Snacks

Other factors

Some other considerations when determining turkey servings:

  • Will stuffing be served? Stuffing soaks up juices and fat.
  • Any other sides, apps, or desserts? May fill people up more.
  • Men often eat more than women.
  • Kids tend to eat less.


For a 20 lb turkey:

  • Plan for about 1/3 to 1/2 lb turkey per person
  • Remove giblets and neck which takes off a few pounds
  • White meat has less yield than dark
  • Cook extra for leftovers

Most experts recommend planning for 1/3 to 1/2 pound of turkey per person, along with plenty of extra sides and leftovers. Using these guidelines, a 20 lb turkey would probably feed 30-40 people comfortably.

Detailed calculations

Here are more detailed calculations on number of servings from a 20 lb turkey:

Based on total weight

Turkey weight: 20 lbs
Serving size: 1/3 lb
1/3 lb servings: 20 * (1 lb/0.33 lb) = 61 servings
Serving size: 1/2 lb
1/2 lb servings: 20 * (1 lb/0.5 lb) = 40 servings

Factoring in bones/waste

Turkey weight: 20 lbs
Useable meat percent: 70%
Useable meat lbs: 20 * 0.70 = 14 lbs
Serving size: 1/3 lb
1/3 lb servings: 14 * (1 lb/0.33 lb) = 42 servings
Serving size: 1/2 lb
1/2 lb servings: 14 * (1 lb/0.5 lb) = 28 servings

White vs. dark meat

Useable meat lbs: 14 lbs
Percent white meat: 40%
White meat lbs: 14 * 0.4 = 5.6 lbs
Percent dark meat: 60%
Dark meat lbs: 14 * 0.6 = 8.4 lbs
Serving size: 1/3 lb
White servings: 5.6 * (1 lb/0.33 lb) = 17 servings
Dark servings: 8.4 * (1 lb/0.33 lb) = 25 servings
Serving size: 1/2 lb
White servings: 5.6 * (1 lb/0.5 lb) = 11 servings
Dark servings: 8.4 * (1 lb/0.5 lb) = 17 servings

In summary, a 20 lb turkey will provide approximately:

  • 42 servings at 1/3 lb each
  • 28 servings at 1/2 lb each
  • 17 servings of white meat at 1/3 lb each
  • 11 servings of white meat at 1/2 lb each
  • 25 servings of dark meat at 1/3 lb each
  • 17 servings of dark meat at 1/2 lb each

To comfortably feed a group, planning for the lower end of servings is recommended, around 30-40 people for a 20 lb turkey. Having extra will allow for leftovers.

Cooking times

Here are some estimated cooking times for a 20 lb turkey:

Oven temperature: 325°F
Unstuffed: 4-4.5 hours
Stuffed: 5-5.5 hours
Oven temperature: 350°F
Unstuffed: 3.5-4 hours
Stuffed: 4.5-5 hours
Oven temperature: 375°F
Unstuffed: 3-3.5 hours
Stuffed: 4-4.5 hours

Key tips for cooking time:

  • Use a meat thermometer and cook until the thigh reaches 165°F.
  • Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving.
  • Calculate 15-18 minutes per pound if exact time is unknown.
  • Add 30 minutes if stuffed.

Thawing time

For food safety, turkey must be thoroughly thawed before cooking. Here are some estimated thawing times for a 20 lb turkey:

Thawing method: Refrigerator
Days to thaw: 4-5 days
Thawing method: Cold water
Time to thaw: 10-12 hours
Thawing method: Cold water (change water every 30 min)
Time to thaw: 5-6 hours

Key tips for thawing:

  • Refrigerator thawing is safest.
  • Keep turkey refrigerated while thawing.
  • Cook immediately if thawed in cold water.
  • Do not thaw at room temperature.

Stuffing tips

If stuffing your turkey, follow these recommendations for safety and best results:

  • Use a stuffing recipe formulated for poultry.
  • Prepare stuffing just before using.
  • Keep wet and dry ingredients separate until ready to bake.
  • Mix ingredients just before spooning into turkey cavity.
  • Fill cavity loosely.
  • Cook stuffing to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Let turkey rest 20 minutes before removing stuffing.

Alternatively, you can bake stuffing in a casserole dish alongside the turkey. This lets you easily monitor the stuffing temperature.

Leftover storage

Here are some tips for storing Thanksgiving leftovers safely:

  • Carve turkey from the bone and refrigerate in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Use leftovers within 3-4 days.
  • Reheat thoroughly to 165°F.
  • Freeze leftovers in air-tight containers up to 4 months.
  • Label containers with date and contents.
  • Avoid repeated reheating to prevent bacteria growth.

Creative leftover ideas

Get creative with leftover turkey! Some recipe ideas:

  • Turkey pot pie – Layer turkey, veggies, and sauce topped with pie crust
  • Turkey tetrazzini – Turkey, pasta, cream sauce, mushrooms, and parmesan
  • Turkey salad sandwiches – Shredded turkey, mayo, lettuce, tomato, avocado
  • Turkey enchiladas – Shredded turkey rolled in tortillas and baked with enchilada sauce
  • Turkey soup – Dice turkey and simmer with veggies, broth, noodles or rice
  • Turkey hash – Diced turkey cooked with potatoes, onions, peppers, and spices


A 20 lb turkey can comfortably feed 30-40 people, depending on serving sizes and ratios of white and dark meat. Prepare for plenty of leftovers! Thaw frozen turkeys several days in advance. Cook to an internal temperature of 165°F and let rest before carving. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours and use creative recipes like sandwiches, soups, and casseroles to enjoy the flavors again.

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