How Much Turkey Breast per Person

Cyd Converse

Wondering how much turkey breast to serve per person? We have all the answers you need about how to prep and serve turkey any time of year.

Cooking a turkey can feel like a daunting task. Most people prepare only a couple of turkeys per year and usually only around the holidays.

This means that many people have a year in between to forget just how much to buy, how long to cook turkey breast and their favorite methods.

We have a comprehensive turkey guide that shares everything you need to know about cooking a turkey during the holiday season and beyond.

Instant Pot Turkey Breast with Carrots and Homemade Gravy Photo

Choosing the right size turkey depends on the number of guests you're hosting and whether you're preparing a whole bird or a boneless turkey breast.

This handy guide will help you sort out how much turkey breast per person you should plan to serve on Thanksgiving Day or any other day of the year.

How Much Turkey Breast per Person

When planning for your Thanksgiving dinner, you want to make sure you have the right amount of food to satisfy your guests.

Since turkey leftovers are enjoyable for days to come, you may even want to plan to prepare extra.

Finding the right amount of turkey per person is often the focus of people’s concerns as turkey is the primary dish in a Thanksgiving dinner.

A general rule of thumb is about one pound of turkey per person.

Rounding up to 1 ½ lbs to 2 lbs per person will leave you with ample leftovers, and this is what most people prefer.

While a pound or so of turkey per person seems like a lot, it’s important to remember that the whole turkey is not consumed.

A portion of the weight of the turkey is bone, which means that you’re really getting about half pound to ¾ a pound per person with this measurement.

If serving boneless meat, 8-ounces per guest is a sweet spot to accommodate for both big eaters and lighter eaters on your guest list such as a small child.

When not cooking for a large crowd, smaller birds of 5-7 pounds easily feeds a small group of about 4 people plus leftovers.

Instant Pot Turkey Breast with Carrots and Homemade Gravy Picture

How Much Turkey Do You Need for a Large Crowd?

Cooking for a large crowd is the exception for the turkey rule and for best results you may want to consider avoiding a larger 20-pound turkey.

If you’re cooking for more than 16 people, you may choose to buy one 12 to 14 pound bird and a separate breast rather than roasting a giant turkey.

If you anticipate guests that prefer dark meat, you can purchase the breast and turkey legs separately.

Turkeys over 15 pounds are difficult to cook without drying out and are generally more finicky.

You can roast the whole turkey on the upper rack and the breast on the lower rack for even cooking of both.

How Much Food Should I Prepare for Thanksgiving Dinner?

8 People

16 People

  • Whole turkey - Approximately 16 pounds (or see note above about also preparing a turkey breast)
  • Dry mix stuffing - 24 ounces or equivalent of homemade stuffing
  • Potatoes - About 8 pounds
  • Canned cranberry sauce - Three 14-ounce cans or equivalent of homemade cranberry sauce
  • Pie - 3 to 4 pies
  • Green beans - Approximately 4 pounds
Instant Pot Turkey Breast with Carrots and Homemade Gravy Image

Is Bone-in or Boneless Turkey Better?

High-quality bone-in turkey breasts are typically larger and contain both sides of the breast compared to boneless turkey breasts.

Both bone-in breasts and boneless breasts can be juicy and flavorful, but bone-in turkeys do have an advantage.

Turkey breasts with bones in the meat are typically juicier because the bone insulates the nearby meat while cooking, causing it to heat slower and retain moisture.

This also changes how long it takes to roast a turkey breast.

Some people are intimidated by cooking a full turkey, either due to inexperience or concerns with handling it from a food safety standpoint.

Breast meat requires less time to prep. It’s also only white meat, so overcooking is rarer because you don’t have to wait for the dark meat to finish cooking.

Is Turkey Breast Better for Thanksgiving?

Roasting a turkey breast for Thanksgiving has several advantages. Preparing a turkey breast instead of an entire turkey cuts the roasting time in at least half.

It takes less time and effort to thaw a turkey breast from frozen than it would to thaw a turkey.

Turkey breast preparation is more clear-cut, since you are not waiting for several areas of meat to cook completely and can more easily understand when your food is done cooking.

You do not have to carve a whole turkey, which is time consuming and sometimes a hassle, if you have only the breast to serve.

Carving just the breast is much easier and results in less waste.

Perhaps the favorite reason people prepare a turkey breast rather than a full bird is the ability to keep the white meat moist with less risk of it drying out.

Preparing a turkey breast as you would a large turkey is also possible. Many people choose to learn how to brine a turkey or turkey breast.

You follow the same directions, but you will be handling a smaller amount of raw meat and won't need as much storage space in the fridge.

Be careful not to brine any turkey for too long - it would be too salty and have a spongy texture. Turkey breast is best brined for 8 to 12 hours.

Instant Pot Turkey Breast with Carrots and Homemade Gravy Pic

Does Turkey Breast Need To Rest After Cooking?

Turkey breast, once removed from the oven and transferred skin side up to a cooking board, should rest for at least 20 minutes.

This gives the muscle fibers time to relax from cooking while the juices settle. Long story short, the meat will be tender and moist, perfect for serving.

Skipping this step or not resting for enough time will allow the juices to drain out of the turkey as you slice.

It is also important to let the meat rest before cooking.

Allowing the meat to come to room temperature by sitting out for about an hour before roasting will help ensure an even cook time for the whole breast.

How Do You Carve a Turkey Breast?

  1. To carve a turkey breast, place the knife on one side of the breast bone.
  2. Working along the bone, cut down and past the ribs, cutting the breast completely away from the bones. You’ll then repeat this on the other side.
  3. Once you have removed the meat from the bone, place the breasts skin side up on the cutting board and slice crosswise.

Carving Tip: Do not “saw” the meat. Cut using long knife strokes so the cut is clean and the meat remains smooth. This will also keep the skin in place.

Is Cooked Turkey Breast a Little Pink?

The color of cooked meat is not always a good indicator of doneness.

Turkey is among the meats that can remain pink even after cooking to appropriate temperatures.

For example, the meat of smoked turkey will always be pink.

Multiple elements, from the presence of nitrites, age of the source of the meat, and method of cooking will determine the coloring.

An instant-read thermometer or other meat thermometer is necessary to determine if your meat has reached the required internal temperature minimum of 160°F.

What To Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers

If you find yourself with leftover turkey breast this holiday season, consider trying our leftover turkey pot pie recipe using the turkey stashed in the fridge.

Our leftover Thanksgiving enchiladas are always a crowd pleaser or you can make a turkey version of Shepherd's pie, even layering in leftover green bean casserole.

Use the leftover turkey to make a turkey soup or try your hand making turkey tetrazzini. Basically any dish that calls for chicken can be made with oven-roasted turkey breast.

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Cyd is a native of Upstate New York, born to a family of women who love to cook and host parties. She shares her love of all things food, home and entertaining on her blog, The Sweetest Occasion and on Instagram.

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