How to pick the right-sized bird, and other turkey questions answered

When you're used to 4-pound chickens, the prospect of a giant turkey is intimidating, to say the least. How do you know how much to buy? And what happens when dinner is tomorrow and you forgot that whole defrosting thing? Below, a cheat sheet of tips to arm yourself with.

How Much to Buy?

Figuring out how much turkey to buy can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. For dinner itself, registered dietician Shari Steinbach advises figuring one-pound uncooked turkey per person when buying your bird. If you want leftovers, the rule of thumb is one-and-a-half pounds per person. So, a host with eighteen guests and a future filled with turkey tetrazzini, should buy a 27-pound bird. Still confused? Let this calculator do the arithmetic for you.

Should I Buy Fresh or Frozen?
"Most people agree that there's no noticeable difference in taste between fresh and frozen turkeys," says household savings expert for, Jeanette Pavini, so it's just a matter of choosing the option that's best for your Thanksgiving schedule and budget. The advantage to fresh is that there's no defrosting time. Buy a fresh turkey a day or two before you plan to cook it. Frozen turkeys allow for a little more flexibility in terms of buying early. Just remember: they do require plenty of time to thaw.

I Bought a Frozen Turkey. Now How Do I Defrost It?
Glad you asked, as this is what tends to trip up most first-time turkey cooks. To thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, Butterball recommends one day of refrigerator thawing for every four pounds of turkey. So, if you have a 16-pound turkey, it will be ready to cook after four days in the fridge. In an effort to save people from frozen turkeys on Thanksgiving, Butterball is declaring this Thursday, November 18, National Thaw Day.

I Bought A Frozen Turkey, But Forgot About Defrosting. What Do I Do?

First, don't freak out. You can still thaw your turkey in the sink, according to cooking expert Sara Moulton. Keep the turkey in its original packaging and put it in a sink filled with water, breast side down. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold, and allow 30 minutes for every pound of turkey. So, your 16-pound turkey will take 8 hours to defrost.

How Can I Save on My Turkey?

Turkey tends to be cheapest around the Thanksgiving holiday. To save even more, do an Internet search for "turkey coupons" to see if you can get more breaks. "If you have the freezer space," advises CouponMom Stephanie Nelson, take advantage of seasonal savings and "buy an extra turkey or two." Pavini recommends keeping an eye out for stores that will keep track of your grocery spending during the holidays and offer a free turkey or ham for a certain number of dollars spent. But there's also no shame in buying just what you need. "If you're hosting a smaller group for dinner," says Pavini, "one big way to save is by buying just a turkey breast."


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