Will a 20-pound turkey feed 12 people?

When planning a Thanksgiving dinner for a large group, one of the most important decisions is figuring out how big of a turkey to buy. A common question is whether a 20-pound turkey will provide enough meat for 12 hungry guests. The quick answer is that a 20-pound turkey should feed 12 people comfortably, with some leftovers. However, there are a few factors to consider to ensure everyone gets fed.

How much turkey per person?

As a general rule of thumb, plan on having 1-1.5 pounds of uncooked turkey meat per person. This accounts for meat only and does not include the weight of the bones or fat. For 12 people, you’ll need about 12-18 pounds of edible turkey meat. Since a 20-pound turkey contains about 16 pounds of usable meat after removing bones, skin, and fat, a 20-pounder should be more than enough for 12 portions.

Here is a simple formula to estimate how many people a turkey will feed:

  • Total turkey weight x 0.8 = Usable meat weight
  • Usable meat weight / 1.25 = Number of servings

For a 20-pound turkey:

  • 20 lbs x 0.8 = 16 lbs usable meat
  • 16 lbs / 1.25 lbs per serving = 12 servings

So in the end, the math shows that a 20-pound turkey will provide enough meat for 12 people at about 1.25 pounds per serving. The extra weight over 12 servings gives you some buffer in case folks want larger portions or if you miscalculate slightly.

Factors that affect portion sizes

While the general 1-1.5 pound per person guideline is a good starting point, the actual portion sizes that each person will eat can vary based on several factors:

  • Ages of guests – Children often eat smaller portions than adults.
  • Appetites of guests – Some people tend to eat more than others.
  • Side dishes served – Guests will likely eat less turkey if there are a lot of sides.
  • Leftovers desired – You’ll need extra turkey if you want leftovers.

To accommodate various appetites and guarantee ample leftovers, it’s smart to estimate on the higher end of the 1-1.5 pound per person range. It’s better to have too much turkey than not enough.

Key factors about a 20-pound turkey

Beyond just the weight, there are a few other things to know about a 20-pound turkey that can inform how well it will feed a group:

  • A 20-pound turkey is on the larger side for a single household. The average weight for a turkey is 15 pounds.
  • A 20-pound turkey will require a longer roasting time than smaller birds. Plan for about 4-5 hours total cook time.
  • A 20-pound turkey is likely too large to fit in some standard home ovens. Measure your oven’s capacity.
  • The bigger the turkey, the longer it takes for the interior to reach safe minimum cooking temperatures. Use a meat thermometer.
  • A 20-pound turkey will need more time to thaw if frozen. Allow 1-2 days thawing in the refrigerator.

As long as you account for the size and cook the turkey properly, a 20-pound bird should comfortably feed 12 guests with standard appetites along with leftovers.

Carving strategy for a 20-pound turkey

Carving a large 20-pound turkey for a crowd can seem daunting. Here are some tips for carving success:

  • Let the cooked turkey rest 20-30 minutes before carving so juices redistribute.
  • Use a sturdy cutting board and sharp carving knife to slice evenly.
  • Start by removing the legs and wings, then slice the breast meat.
  • Cut crosswise across the grain of the meat for tenderest slices.
  • Plan for about 8-12 slices from each breast half.
  • Arrange slices on a platter with drumsticks and wings around the outside edges.
  • Save the bones, wings, and scraps for leftovers or making stock.

Properly carving the turkey is just as important as properly cooking it. With the right technique, you’ll have beautifully plated slices ready for your hungry guests.

Leftover turkey ideas

A 20-pound turkey will likely provide ample leftovers, which is one of the best parts of preparing a large bird. Here are some delicious ways to use up leftover turkey meat:

  • Turkey sandwiches – Get creative with different breads, spreads, cheeses and toppings.
  • Turkey casseroles or pot pies – Mix turkey with veggies, gravy and starch.
  • Turkey soup or chowder – Simmer turkey in broth with veggies and noodles or potatoes.
  • Turkey tetrazzini or enchiladas – Use turkey in creamy or saucy baked pasta dishes.
  • Turkey hash – Fry turkey pieces with potatoes and spices.
  • Turkey salad – Toss diced turkey into leafy greens or grain bowls.

With proper storage in the refrigerator or freezer, leftover turkey keeps well for up to 4-5 days refrigerated or 2-3 months frozen. Getting creative with the leftovers is a great way reduce food waste and get multiple meals out of your large 20-pound bird.

Purchasing a 20-pound turkey

If you’ve determined a 20-pound turkey is right for your 12 dinner guests, here are some tips for purchasing:

  • Shop early – Large turkeys sell out quicker closer to the holidays.
  • Allow 1-2 days for thawing – Give yourself time to thaw a frozen 20-lb turkey in the fridge.
  • Check oven capacity – Make sure your oven can accommodate a 20-pounder.
  • Buy fresh or frozen – Either works fine as long as you allot thawing time for frozen.
  • Estimate about $1 per pound – Expect to pay around $20 for a 20-pound bird.

The two best places to purchase large whole turkeys are grocery stores, such as Kroger, Publix or Safeway, which carry frozen and fresh turkeys, and warehouse clubs like Costco or Sam’s Club, which stock large frozen turkeys. You can also order directly from local turkey farms or butcher shops.

Should you cook two smaller turkeys instead?

While a 20-pound turkey can comfortably feed 12 people, another option is cooking two smaller 10-12 pound turkeys instead of one large bird. Here are some pros and cons of this approach:

Pros of two smaller turkeys:

  • Can fit in more standard ovens
  • Cook faster than one huge turkey
  • Provide more surface area for crispier skin
  • More flexibility with different seasoning or cooking methods

Cons of two smaller turkeys:

  • More expensive to buy two birds versus one
  • Need oven space to cook two at once
  • May dry out faster than a large turkey
  • Less impressive presentation than a whole 20-lb turkey

Ultimately the choice comes down to your oven size, budgets and preferences for presentation. Either approach can work well for feeding 12 people.

Whole turkey alternatives for 12 people

While a whole roasted turkey is traditional, there are other meat options to feed a crowd if you want a change of pace:

  • Turkey breast – Roasted bone-in turkey breast provides white meat without as much overage.
  • Turkey parts – Cook thighs and drumsticks separately from breast meat.
  • Boneless turkey breast – Roast a boneless breast or cook breasts in a sauce.
  • Ham – A boneless cooked ham makes an easy alternative to turkey.
  • Prime rib – Elegant roasted beef tenderloin or rib roast.
  • Beef tenderloin – Quick-cooking and easy to carve.

Going with an alternative like ham or beef allows you more flexibility if you have a smaller oven. You can also serve non-traditional meats alongside turkey. Get creative!


Figuring out the right size turkey for Thanksgiving with a group of 12 is a key part of holiday meal planning. While there are some variables to consider, the typical recommendation is 1-1.5 pounds of turkey meat per person. For 12 guests, a 20-pound turkey should provide more than enough meat with some leftovers to spare. Ensure you allow enough time to safely thaw and roast a 20-pound bird. Carve the turkey carefully and get creative with leftovers! With thoughtful prep and cooking, a 20-pound turkey can comfortably feed a hungry group of 12 with memorable holiday feasting.

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