Amiel also points out that the bigger the turkey, the less likely it is to cook evenly. He would much rather serve small-ish portions of perfect poultry than massive servings that are half-raw, half-dry. “In terms of ensuring that the breast meat is delicious and moist and the dark meat is cooked through, I think you’re going to get the best results from a 14- to 15-pound bird, max.”
If that sounds teeny tiny compared to your guest list, Amiel and Jessie recommend serving a different meat or protein (no matter your party’s size). “I like to do steak or lamb chops,” says Jessie, “which are also very festive and are a lot easier to prepare than a whole turkey.” Having a second meat on the table not only provides a backup if your bird is on the scrawny side, but it also makes your turkey stretch further (I mean, between a slice of seared ribeye and a piece of white breast meat, what are you reaching for?). Aim for 1–1 ½ total pounds of protein here and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
What if I’m serving turkey to a really big crowd?
We get it, everyone’s getting vaccinated, we’re excited to see our friends and families again, and suddenly your guest list is ballooning. If, despite our advice, you’ve ended up with a massive bird and are worried about cooking it evenly, consider breaking it down into smaller parts for more control over individual cook times. “Take the legs off and cook them separately from the breasts,” says Amiel, “you can even slow roast them until they’re really tender and falling apart the day before, then reheat them while you’re roasting the breasts.”
Even broken down, that jumbo bird is going to take up lots of oven space. To save on precious real estate, you can also take parts of the meal prep outside, weather permitting. Once your turkey is in pieces, those breasts, thighs, and legs are perfect candidates for grilling. Not only will this get you out of the kitchen here and there (and let’s be honest, anyone cooking a Thanksgiving feast could probably use some fresh air), it’ll bring smoky flavors to a protein that’s known for trending bland.
What if you STILL end up with way too many leftovers?
It happens to the best of us. No matter how much turkey per person you prepared for, there’s bound to be one cousin who went vegan last year, or an uncle who got stuck at O’Hare, or too many good-tasting appetizers to fill up on. However you got here, you’re stuck with very many zip-top bags full of leftover turkey.
Fret not, though, because there’s plenty of ways to repurpose those leftovers into delicious meals without letting things get overly repetitive. “I think that as far as your first couple of days of leftover consumption are concerned, cold breast meat sandwiches are the way to go,” says Amiel. That’s because the dark meat is slower to dry out, so getting through the white meat should be step one.