What size turkey do I need to feed 20 adults?

When hosting Thanksgiving dinner for a large group, one of the most important decisions is figuring out what size turkey to buy. Providing enough food for all your guests while also minimizing leftovers and waste is a tricky balancing act. So what size turkey do you need to comfortably feed 20 adult guests?

Quick Answer

For 20 adult guests, you will likely need a 18-22 lb uncooked turkey, which will provide around 16-20 lbs of cooked meat. The general rule of thumb is to plan for 1 lb of uncooked turkey per person, which will yield around 3/4 lb – 1 lb of cooked meat per person when factoring in bone weight and cooking loss. A turkey in the 18-22 lb range allows for generous portions and leftovers.

Factors That Determine Turkey Size

There are a few key factors that will help determine the right turkey size for your group:

  • Number of guests – For 20 adults, plan on about 1 lb uncooked turkey per person.
  • Appetites – If your guests tend to have hearty appetites, go on the higher end (1.1 lbs per person).
  • Leftovers – Do you want lots of leftovers or just enough? Scale up or down accordingly.
  • Other main dishes – If serving ham or other proteins, you may need less turkey.
  • Turkey cooking method – A roasted whole turkey will lose around 15% in cooking. Less for other methods like smoking or frying.

Recommended Turkey Sizes for 20 People

Based on the typical recommendation of 1 lb of uncooked turkey per person, here are some recommended turkey sizes for 20 guests:

Uncooked Weight Cooked Weight*
18-20 lbs 15-17 lbs
20-22 lbs 17-19 lbs
22-24 lbs 19-20 lbs

*Assuming around 15% cooking loss for roasted turkey

A 18-20 lb turkey will provide right around 1 lb of uncooked turkey per person. This size should provide enough food without too many leftovers.

A 20-22 lb turkey gives you a little extra meat at around 1.1 lbs per person. This allows for larger appetites and some leftovers.

A 22-24 lb turkey is on the larger side at 1.2 lbs per person. This size provides very generous portions and lots of leftovers.

Amount of Meat Per Pound of Turkey

Since you eat the actual cooked meat off the turkey and not the entire uncooked weight, it’s helpful to know how much usable meat you get per pound of whole turkey:

  • Whole turkeys are about 75% meat, 25% bone. So 5 lbs of uncooked turkey yields around 3.75 lbs of cooked meat.
  • For turkeys under 16 lbs, expect around 0.75 lb of meat per 1 lb of turkey.
  • For turkeys over 16 lbs, expect closer to 0.70 lb of meat per 1 lb turkey due to a higher bone percentage.

Using a 0.75 ratio, a 20 lb turkey will yield approximately 15 lbs of cooked meat for guests. Using a 0.70 ratio, a 24 lb turkey yields about 16.8 lbs of meat.

Turkey Sizes for Different Numbers of Guests

Here are some general turkey size guidelines based on the number of guests you plan to serve:

Number of Guests Recommended Turkey Size
8-12 guests 12-15 lbs
12-16 guests 16-18 lbs
16-20 guests 18-22 lbs
20-24 guests 22-26 lbs
24-28 guests 26-30 lbs

These sizes are based on recommending around 1 lb of uncooked turkey per guest. You can adjust a few pounds in either direction depending on your goals for portions and leftovers.

Buying Your Turkey

Once you’ve settled on the right size turkey for your group, here are some tips for purchasing:

  • Buy 1-2 weeks in advance – This gives you time to thaw it properly.
  • Allow 1.5-2 lbs per person if buying a frozen turkey – They pack extra ice so package weights are not just meat.
  • Opt for a broad-breasted turkey if roasting – More white meat and easier to carve.
  • Get a free-range or organic turkey for more flavor.
  • Buy a kosher or self-basting turkey for easier roasting.

Thawing Your Turkey

Once you have your frozen turkey, you need to thaw it properly before cooking. Here are some safe thawing methods:

  • Refrigerator: Thaw turkey breast-side up in fridge allowing 24 hours for every 4-5 lbs turkey. Place in pan to catch drips.
  • Cold Water: Submerge turkey in cold water, breast-side down. Change water every 30 mins. Allow 30 mins thawing time per lb.
  • Microwave: Check manufacturer guidelines for thawing. Rotate and flip turkey several times. Cook immediately after thawing.

You should never thaw turkey at room temperature as this allows for bacterial growth. And don’t thaw in hot water as this can start to partially cook the turkey.

Roasting Your Turkey

To yield moist, flavorful meat, follow these tips for roasting your turkey:

  • Set oven at 325°F. Place rack in lower third of oven.
  • Pat turkey dry. Rub skin with oil or butter and seasonings.
  • Place breast-side up on rack in roasting pan. Tent with foil.
  • Roast for 3-3.5 hours,until thigh reaches 165°F – 175°F.
  • Baste every 30 mins with pan juices.
  • Discard foil last hour and roast until brown.
  • Let rest 30 mins before carving.

This method keeps the breast meat moist and gives you gorgeous, crispy skin. Monitoring the temperature ensures the turkey reaches a safe minimum internal temperature.

Carving the Turkey

Follow these steps for perfectly carved turkey:

  1. Place turkey breast-side up on cutting board with legs facing you.
  2. Using a carving fork to steady, slice horizontally between leg and body.
  3. Remove leg quarters and slice between drumstick and thigh.
  4. Hold leg meat steady and slice meat, keeping knife parallel to the bone.
  5. For breast, slice downward along one side of breastbone from top to bottom.
  6. Repeat on other side of breastbone.
  7. Slice across grain of meat to serve slices.

Try to keep slices 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick. Arrange slices neatly on serving platter with drumsticks and thighs on the side.

Serving Size

To determine appropriate serving sizes for your guests:

  • Carve turkey and weigh the cooked meat (excluding bones, skin, etc).
  • Divide total cooked meat weight by number of guests.
  • Aim for 10-12 oz of meat per adult guest if no other main dishes.
  • Offer 8-10 oz per person if also serving ham or other entree.

Serve white and dark meat, keeping track of portions so guests can have equal servings of each. Offer an even number of drumsticks and wings.


For enjoying delicious leftover turkey after your meal:

  • Let turkey cool completely before refrigerating.
  • Store cut turkey meat in shallow airtight containers.
  • Use turkey within 3-4 days for peak quality and safety.
  • Slice and freeze leftovers in freezer bags for longer storage (2-3 months).
  • Make turkey stock from the carcass for soups.

Creative Leftover Recipes

Here are some delicious ways to use up leftover turkey:

  • Turkey sandwiches – Get creative with cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing and other leftovers on toasted bread.
  • Turkey salad – Chop turkey and mix with mayo, celery, onion for simple salad.
  • Turkey casserole – Combine turkey, vegetables, rice or pasta, cheese and bake.
  • Turkey soup – Simmer turkey meat, stock, veggies and noodles or rice for cozy soup.
  • Turkey tetrazzini – Turkey, mushrooms, pasta and Parmesan cheese make a flavorful casserole.
  • Turkey enchiladas – Stuff tortillas with turkey, cheese, beans, veggies and sauce for an easy meal.


When hosting Thanksgiving for 20 hungry adults, a 18-22 lb fresh or 20-24 lb frozen turkey is your best bet. This provides each guest with generous portions of moist, tender meat. Adjust turkey sizes up or down slightly based on your goals for leftovers. With the right size bird and some tried and true roasting, carving and leftover tips, you’ll enjoy a perfect Turkey Day feast!

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