How Many People Does a 20 lb Turkey Feed? Let’s Talk Turkey

December 24, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

By allocating 1.25 pounds of turkey per person, a 20 lb turkey will feed a party of sixteen people. If you are a fan of turkey leftovers, allocate 1.5 pounds of turkey per person.

Turkey cooked whole evokes memories of laughter, bad jokes, tasty meals, outdoor games, and other fun moments with family. As a regular thanksgiving host, I can say that turkey is the thanksgiving centerpiece.

If you too are planning to serve turkey at your next party, then you’ve come to the right place. This article will cover how much turkey you will need for your guests, how to prepare it and store leftovers. I have also included some of my favorite leftover recipes and answered your most pressing questions on thanksgiving turkey servings.

how many people does a 20 lb turkey feed

What Should I Consider Before Deciding on The Turkey Size?

How much turkey you buy depends on:

Age of Guests

If you’re expecting a lot of children, they won’t eat as much as an adult, so count back a few extra pounds. 3/4 lbs is enough turkey per child or 1 lb to account for leftovers.


If you fancy making leftover turkey dishes then the bigger the bird the better. Count an extra 1/4 to half a pound per person.

Side Dishes

With more side dishes, the less the amount of meat you need to buy. People eat a variety of side dishes but in small amounts. If you have more dishes, you can count smaller portions of meat per person.

What Is The Average Weight of A Whole Turkey?

On average, toms are grown to a live weight of up to 41 lbs while the hens get to an average of 17 lbs. If you bought a bird weighing between 16-24 lbs, that is most likely a tom. A bird weighing between 8-16 lbs is more likely to be a hen.

Note that larger birds will take longer to cook and might not fit in your smoker. It will also not be as flavorful as smaller turkeys.

Consider buying two smaller birds if you expect a large gathering.

What About Shrinkage?

A whole turkey contains a lot of moisture. Just like other meats, when heated, the moisture is forced outwards toward the surface where most of it dissipates or evaporates.

Shrinking depends on how much fat and moisture the meat has as well as the temperature it is subjected to. Higher cooking temperatures will lead to more shrinkage.

How Long Does It Take to Cook A 20-pound Turkey?

Roasting time estimates largely depend on the cooking temperature and whether it is stuffed.

Each pound of turkey will take about 15 minutes per pound to cook through at a grill temperature of 325°F.

By this calculation, a 20-pound turkey that is not stuffed will require 5 hours to fully cook.

As a general rule, 165°F is the safe internal temperature for turkey.

A frozen turkey will take 50% longer to fully cook than thawed one.

Pull out the giblets when the turkey roasts for about 20 minutes.

A 20-pound frozen turkey could therefore take up to 7-8 hours to cook.

USDA does not recommend cooking poultry at temperatures lower than 325°F since the meat will stay in the danger zone, (40-140°F) for too long.

Fried Turkey Resting on the Tray

How Should I Defrost and Prepare the Turkey Before Cooking?

Now that you have bought the best-size turkey, let’s thaw it and prepare it for the grill.


You can thaw your bird in one of three ways, in the fridge, microwave, or with cold water.

Refrigerator Thawing

The safest way to thaw your turkey is to use your fridge.

You will have to plan ahead in order to allow the turkey an average of 4.8 hours per pound to fully thaw. For our 20-pound bird, thaw in the fridge at 40°F for 4 days.

The meat can stay in the fridge for up to two days before cooking.

Turkey thawed in the refrigerator can safely be refrozen without cooking but the quality of the meat may deteriorate as a result.

Microwave Thawing

If your microwave can fit the whole bird, put it in a microwave-safe dish without any wrapping.

Thaw using the defrost function based on the weight. Rotate and flip several times to ensure the bird thaws evenly.

At roughly 6 minutes per pound, it will take our 20-pound turkey 2 hours to thaw.

Grill immediately.

Cold Water Thawing

Put the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag. This serves to prevent cross-contamination and keep the meat from absorbing water.

Allow about 30 minutes per pound. This means 10 hours for a 20 lb. turkey.

Change the water every half hour and grill immediately after it thaws.

Preparing The Turkey


Brine tenderizes and adds an intense flavor to the turkey.

To brine your turkey, plan to leave it overnight in the mixture.

You can brine a partially thawed turkey but not a frozen turkey.

Make a simple quick brine by mixing cold water, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, garlic, rosemary, and the peel of three oranges.

Bring this mixture to a boil till the sugar and salt dissolves. Allow it to completely cook before soaking in your meat and refrigerating for 8-12 hours.

Take your bird off the brine, pat dry with a clean kitchen towel, and grill.


The best way to baste your turkey without consistently opening the grill and interrupting the cooking process is to slip thinly sliced pieces of butter underneath the skin. Then, place them on the grill.

Basting will ensure your meat is succulent with a rich brown color that is unparalleled.


You can also marinade your bird by mixing an acid like vinegar or olive oil, and your favorite mixed spices. I like to use Spice Hunter Poultry seasoning.

If you’re pressed for time, try a rich dry rub like this Traeger Grills Poultry rub over a coat of yellow mustard. Rub generously on both the inside and outside of the bird’s cavity then grill at no lower than 325°F.

Thanksgiving Turkey with Apple Slices

What About a 20-pound Turkey With Stuffing?

A twenty-pound stuffed turkey will take about half an hour longer than the unstuffed turkey so, let it cook for 5-1/2 hours.

Although stuffing a turkey for the grill or smoker is not recommended, it can be done safely.

How Much Stuffing Do I Need?

This depends on how much turkey meat you have.

Allocate 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. That means 10-15 cups of stuffing for our 20-pound bird.

For uniform doneness, cook the stuffing separately and stuff it loosely to leave room for expansion.

Grill the turkey immediately after stuffing.

Use a food thermometer to ensure even the stuffing gets to the recommended temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before taking it off the grill.

Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.

What Do I Do With Grilled or Smoked Turkey Leftovers?

After grilling and sharing a wonderful meal with your loved ones, remember to adhere to the two-hour rule for leftovers.

The two-hour rule is a recommendation to only let cooked food sit out in the open for a maximum of two hours. After this duration, always pack it up and refrigerate it.

Here are a few guidelines and ideas on what to do with the leftovers.


  • Divide the leftover turkey into portion sizes so that you only take out what you need.
  • Refrigerate or freeze in a shallow, covered Tupperware.
  • Use refrigerated turkey leftovers in 3-4 days and gravy within 2 days.
  • If you want to freeze it, use it within 6 months for the best quality.
  • Reheat turkey leftovers to an internal temperature of 165°F.

Quick Turkey Leftover Recipes

Turkey Tetrazzini

Melt butter in a skillet and cook baby mushrooms for about a minute. Add in the extra turkey, broth, sour cream, salt, and pepper.

Place cooked pasta on a baking dish and pour the turkey evenly on top. Sprinkle parmesan.

Bake in the oven till the top gets a nice golden brown color and the cheese melts.

Fried Rice

Sauté carrots and peas with garlic and ginger. Add cooked rice and chopped turkey. Season with soy sauce and a little olive oil then dig in.

Turkey Soup

Boil turkey bones with mixed herbs. Strain the stock. Add in noodles, parsley, and green onion for flavor and simmer for a few minutes. Serve chicken soup with garlic bread or mashed potatoes.

Leftover Turkey Sandwich and Cranberry Sauce

Stir fry shredded leftover meat with garlic and parsley. Toast your bread and spread one with mayonnaise. Place lettuce, thin onion slices, cheese, and the turkey. Top with cranberry sauce for the best turkey sandwich.

Woman Cutting Juicy Grilled Turkey Meat


How Many People Does A 22 lb Turkey Feed?

If we count 1.25 lb per guest, a 22lb turkey will feed 17 people.

How Many People Does A 25 lb Turkey Feed?

A 25 lb turkey will feed 20 people.

How Much Meat Do You Get From A 20 lb Turkey?

Around 40%-50% of turkey is inedible and mostly made of bones. This means that for every pound of turkey, you get eight to nine ounces of meat.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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