Pin down those Thanksgiving meal numbers: Guests, turkey size, veggies, times …

One rule of thumb for hosting a traditional Thanksgiving meal is to prepare a turkey whose weight in pounds at least equals the number of guests who will be partaking.
One rule of thumb for hosting a traditional Thanksgiving meal is to prepare a turkey whose weight in pounds at least equals the number of guests who will be partaking. The Associated Press

Ready for the annual Thanksgiving math quiz?

How large a turkey do you need if you are expecting 12 guests (but possibly 14 if Aunt Sue hasn’t broken up with her loser boyfriend and his tag-along mother by then), one of whom will only eat birds raised on a gluten-free diet, three of whom are likely to get into a fistfight over the dark meat, and two others insist the stuffing be made from free-range bread?


If you bake two pumpkin pies, one apple pie and one berry tart, how long will it take for your sister’s bratty daughter to sneeze on two of them?

Gin and tonic.

If three guests insist the potatoes be made from heirloom spuds, two request “mashed” cauliflower (because it “tastes just like the real thing”), and your brother always bogarts at least six servings, should you use an old-fashioned masher or an impossible-to-clean ricer?

Red wine.

You didn’t pass? That’s OK. When it comes to Thanksgiving, survival is more important than correct answers. And while we can’t prevent your relatives from driving you to drink, we can give you a cheat sheet to some of the most common Thanksgiving math. Now you can focus on more important things, such as how many washings it will take to remove the cranberry sauce your mother-in-law spilled on the tablecloth.

And because this is Thanksgiving, all serving estimates are generous to allow for plenty of seconds and leftovers.

How big?

For turkeys less than 16 pounds, estimate 1 pound per serving (this accounts for bone weight). For larger birds, a bit less is fine; they have a higher meat-to-bone ratio. But if your goal is to have very ample leftovers, aim for 11/2 pounds per person no matter how big the turkey is.

▪ For 8 people, buy a 12-pound turkey

▪  For 10 people, buy a 15-pound turkey

▪  For 12 people, buy an 18-pound turkey

▪  For 14 people, buy a 20-pound turkey

The big thaw

The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. You’ll need about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of turkey. For speedier thawing, put the turkey in a sink of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, and plan for about 30 minutes per pound.

The brine

A good brine uses kosher salt and sugar in a 1-to-1 ratio, and usually no more than 1 cup of each. Feel free to add any other seasonings. Brines typically are made by heating the salt, sugar and seasonings with a bit of water until dissolved. This mixture then is diluted with additional cold water (volume will vary depending on the size of your bird) and ice. Be certain the brine is completely cooled before adding the turkey.

Turkeys should be brined for at least 8 to 10 hours, but can go as long as 72 hours. A good rule of thumb is, the longer the brine, the weaker the brine. So for a 10-hour soak, use 1 cup each of salt and sugar. For a longer one, consider backing down to 3/4 cup each. Always keep the bird refrigerated during brining. If the turkey is too big, an ice-filled cooler stored outside works, too.

Don’t have the time or patience to brine? Try salting instead. In fact, plenty of folks say salting a turkey produces meat with far better flavor than brining. To do it, set the turkey on a platter, then rub a generous amount of kosher salt on all surfaces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. When you’re ready to roast, rinse the salt from the turkey, pat it dry and pop it in the oven.

The roast

Roasting temperatures vary widely by recipe. Some go at a slow and steady 325 degrees. Others crank the heat to 400 or 425 degrees for the first hour, then drop it down for the rest of the time.

However you roast, use an instant thermometer inserted at the innermost part of the thigh (without touching bone) to determine when your turkey is done. The meat needs to hit 165 degrees for safe eating, though some people say thigh meat tastes better at 170 degrees.

If the outside of the bird gets too dark before the center reaches the proper temperature, cover it with foil.

The following roasting time estimates are based on a stuffed turkey cooked at 325 degrees. Reduce cooking time by 20 to 40 minutes for turkeys that are not stuffed (estimate total roasting times at 15 minutes per pound for unstuffed birds). And remember, a crowded oven cooks more slowly, so plan ahead if your bird needs to share the space.

Using a convection oven? They are great at browning, but require heating or timing adjustments. Either cut the temperature by about 25 degrees from what is called for by the recipe and cook for the time directed, or roast at the suggested temperature, but reduce the cooking time by about 25 percent.

The following times are for a standard oven:

▪  12-pound turkey: 3 to 4 hours at 325 degrees

▪  15-pound turkey: 4 to 41/2 hours at 325

▪  18-pound turkey: 41/2 to 5 hours at 325

▪  20-pound turkey: 5 to 6 hours at 325

The baste

Basting the bird with its juices helps crisp the skin and flavor the meat. Do it every 30 minutes, but no more. Opening the oven door too frequently lets heat escape and can significantly slow the cooking.

The rest

The turkey never should go directly from the oven to the table. Like most meat, it needs to rest before serving for the juices to redistribute. Cover the turkey with foil and a few bath towels layered over that (to keep it warm), then let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

The gear

You don’t need to drop a load of cash on special equipment to be thankful this Thanksgiving, but there are some tools that make life easier (and the food safer). A digital instant thermometer or wired probe (that remains in the turkey during roasting) is the most critical. Cheap thermometers will set you back no more than $20.

A heavy-duty roasting pan is a worthwhile investment, but only if you make gravy from the drippings (the pan can be set on the stove top after roasting) and if you roast other critters during the rest of the year. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and spend a few bucks on a disposable foil roasting pan (get a sturdy one). This makes cleanup easier.

Speaking of foil, get the good stuff. Skip the wimpy 12-inch rolls and grab the heavy-duty 18-inch stuff. It costs a few dollars more, but makes it easier to line pans, cover birds browning too quickly and wrap leftovers.

The sides

▪ Carrots: A 1-pound bag makes 4 to 5 servings.

▪ Cranberry sauce: A 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries makes about 21/4 cups of sauce; a 16-ounce can has 6 servings.

▪ Gravy: Plan for 1/3 cup of gravy per person.

▪ Green beans: 11/2 pounds of beans makes 6 to 8 servings.

▪ Mashed potatoes: A 5-pound bag of potatoes makes 10 to 12 servings.

▪ Stuffing: A 14-ounce bag of stuffing makes about 11 servings.

Double oven trouble?

Are you lucky enough to be blessed with two ovens? Here’s how to make the most of the extra roasting space.

▪ Dedicate one oven (if one is larger, use the larger) to the turkey. Place one rack on the oven’s lowest shelf and remove all others. When the bird goes in the oven, it goes on that bottom rack. Now see if you have room to add another rack over it. If so, this is the ideal place to cook your stuffing (assuming it isn’t in the bird), au gratin potatoes and green bean casseroles, which can cook at the same temperature as the bird.

▪ Early in the day, use the second oven to cook anything that can be done ahead. Pies and rolls are good. Closer to the time you will serve the meal, use the second oven to cook things that need a higher temperature than the turkey, such as roasted root vegetables and pies. As the turkey is being carved, use both ovens to reheat items (such as those rolls) or keep things warm; 150 to 200 degrees is about right for both tasks.

The desserts

▪ Pie: A 9-inch pie can be cut into 8 modest slices.

▪ Whipped cream: Dolloping whipped cream on those 8 modest slices will require 1 cup of heavy cream beaten with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (a splash of vanilla extract is nice, too).

▪  Ice cream: A la mode doesn’t require much – 1 pint per pie should suffice.

The leftovers

For food safety reasons, leftovers should be cleared from the table and refrigerated within two hours of being served. Once refrigerated, they should be consumed within three to four days. Leftovers can be frozen for three to four months. Though safe to consume after four months, they will start to taste off.

Now let’s get cooking.

Cheddar-whiskey apple pie with butter cracker crumble

Start to finish: 1 hour (15 minutes active)

Serves 8

Apples and cheddar cheese are such a wonderful pairing, they often are combined in pies. The result is deliciously sweet, with just a hint of creamy-savory for balance.

We love this combination, but we decided we could make it better. We started by adding a couple tablespoons of whiskey (we like bourbon, but go with what you prefer), which lends a wonderful aroma and richness to the juices of the apples and cheese.

Next, we replaced the usual top crust with a crumble made from crushed salted butter crackers tossed with melted butter (because, after all, more butter makes everything better) and sugar, resulting in yet another sweet-savory match.

The result is as addictive as it is beautiful. Recipe by Alison Ladman of The Associated Press.


8 large baking apples (such as Fuji or Cortland), peeled, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons whiskey

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon cornstarch

6 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch dice

Deep-dish 9-inch pie dough

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup salted butter crackers (such as Ritz Crackers), lightly crushed

2 tablespoons granulated sugar


Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place an empty rimmed baking sheet in the oven.

In a large bowl, combine the apples, whiskey, brown sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch and cheddar cheese. Mix well.

Fit the pie dough into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan, folding and crimping the edge as desired. Transfer the apple mixture to the pie shell. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, crackers and granulated sugar. Toss well to mix, then spoon evenly over the top of the pie. Place the pie on the heated baking sheet in the oven (this helps to cook the bottom crust) and bake for 1 hour, or until the crust is golden brown and then apples are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Per serving: 420 calories; 170 calories from fat (40 percent of total calories); 19 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 40 mg cholesterol; 57 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 33 g sugar; 7 g protein; 270 mg sodium.

Roasted beets with orange vinaigrette, pecans and goat cheese

Start to finish: 1 hour (20 minutes active)

Serves 8

Beets are the perfect addition to bountiful fall feasts. They are satisfying without being heavy, and their rich ruby and golden tones add visual interest to any seasonal color scheme.

Plus, beets are incredibly flexible on temperature – serve them warm, room temperature or chilled – which is a huge bonus when planning food for holiday entertaining. Having a few dishes that you can make ahead can be a stress-saver when you are hosting a holiday meal.

Beets are more than just their sweet earthy flavor. They also boast ample antioxidants, fiber, folate, manganese, vitamin C, iron and pack almost as much potassium as bananas. Also, beets are what I like to call a two-for-one veggie. Buy the beets and get the beet greens (full of vitamin A) for free (rinse, chop and saute as you would chard).

Obviously, beets stain. Perhaps easiest (meaning the least beet-staining) method for cooking them is roasting them with the skin on and wrapped in foil. Once the beets cook and cool a bit, you use a paper towel to rub away the skins (they slide off easily). The resulting roasted, peeled beets can be sliced, cubed or cut into wedges and served plain or used in any recipe calling for cooked beets.

If you roast beets until very tender, they can be blended into a dip (just add Greek yogurt, garlic and dill). You also can peel and cube the beets before roasting, but be prepared for stained fingers if you don’t use gloves – washing your hands with lemon juice, baking soda or coarse salt will help to remove beet stains from skin.

Beets can be used raw for juicing, or try grating them raw for salads. Toss with grated carrots and a dab of mayo and vinaigrette for a bright coleslaw.

My holiday beet recipe uses the foil-roasting method, but to save time (if not money), you could use pre-cooked beets you’ll find in the refrigerated section of the produce aisle.

Recipe by Melissa D’Arabian for The Associated Press.


2 bunches of medium beets, trimmed of stems

1/2 cup olive oil, divided

Salt and ground black pepper

4 scallions, light and dark green parts, chopped

Zest and juice of 2 small oranges

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped

1/2 cup soft goat cheese crumbles


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Rub the beets with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the beets in a double layer of foil, then set them on a baking sheet. Roast until just tender, about 45 minutes (larger, older beets could take longer). Set aside to cool until easily handled.

Using paper towels, gently rub off and discard the skins of the beets. Cut the beets into 11/2-inch cubes. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining olive oil, scallions, orange zest and juice, and the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the beets with the vinaigrette, then sprinkle with pecans and goat cheese. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Per serving: 260 calories; 200 calories from fat (77 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 4 g protein; 230 mg sodium.

Green beans with tarragon, mustard and sunflower seeds

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Serves 8

Admit it, when it comes to preparing Thanksgiving dinner, the greens are an afterthought. You give all your focus to the bird, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, probably even a couple orange vegetables. But the green stuff? Um … How long does it take to microwave frozen green beans?

It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why we created this delicious – yet ridiculously simple – recipe for skillet green beans bathed in brown butter, then tossed with fresh tarragon, Dijon mustard and lemon zest. Top the whole thing with toasted sunflower seeds and call it good. Total effort? Only about 20 minutes, and about half of that is hands-off.

Sunflower seeds (get unsalted) don’t appeal? Use toasted pumpkin seeds or chopped toasted hazelnuts. Recipe by Alison Ladman of The Associated Press.


6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

2 pounds green beans, trimmed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds


In a large deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the butter for 5 minutes, or until it is toasty and fragrant. Add the green beans and salt, then stir to coat. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the green beans are just tender. Stir in the tarragon, mustard, lemon zest and sunflower seeds. Serve hot.

Per serving: 140 calories; 100 calories from fat (71 percent of total calories); 11 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 10 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 3 g protein; 340 mg sodium.

Roasted grape succotash

Start to finish: 45 minutes (10 minutes active)

Serves 8

This dish of roasted vegetables starts with classics – onion, butternut squash and corn – but mixes it up with a can of chickpeas and halved red grapes. The chickpeas add a mild nutty flavor, as well as a pleasantly chew-crunchy texture. The grapes offer a gentle sweetness that works so well not only with the rest of the ingredients in this dish, but also with all the other traditional Thanksgiving offerings. Recipe by Alison Ladman of The Associated Press.


1 medium red onion, diced

2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (1/2-inch cubes)

One 16-ounce bag frozen corn kernels, thawed and patted dry with paper towels

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels

2 cups red grapes, halved

Olive oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Balsamic glaze, to serve

Crumbled goat cheese, to serve


Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.

In a large bowl, combine the onion, squash, corn, chickpeas and grapes. Toss with several tablespoons of olive oil, enough so that everything is well coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then spread evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring several times, or until everything is browned and tender.

Pile into a serving dish and drizzle with balsamic glaze. Sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese. Serve hot.

Per serving: 220 calories; 60 calories from fat (27 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 13 g sugar; 6 g protein; 310 mg sodium.

Cider house butter rolls

Start to finish: 3 hours (25 minutes active)

Makes 24

We created these easy-to-make dinner rolls that are inspired by buttery Parker House rolls, but are spiced and sweetened with a bit of fresh apple cider that has been boiled down to a syrup. You won’t regret carving out a little extra time to make these rolls. Recipe by Alison Ladman of The Associated Press.


1 quart apple cider

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon instant yeast

1/4 cup honey

2 egg yolks

1 whole egg

4 cups all-purpose flour

Kosher salt

10 tablespoons room temperature butter, divided


In a large, deep sauté pan over medium-high heat, bring the cider to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 1/2 cup.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium, scald the milk by heating it just until tiny bubbles form (about 180 degrees). Set it and the cider aside to cool until just warm.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the milk, yeast and honey and whisk together. Add the egg yolks, whole egg, flour, 11/2 teaspoons of salt, the cider reduction and 4 tablespoons of the butter. Fit the mixer with the dough hook, then knead on low for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Work in additional flour if necessary to form a soft dough.

Cover the bowl and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 2 pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll each piece into a snake, about 24 inches long. Using a rolling pin, flatten the snake until it is 3 inches wide. Spread 2 tablespoons of the remaining softened butter over piece of dough.

Fold the dough in half so that the two long sides touch and enclose the butter. Cut each length of dough into twelve 3-inch pieces. Arrange the pieces on their sides on the prepared baking sheet. The pieces may overlap a bit. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until puffy, 30 to 40 minutes.

Approaching the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the pan of rolls until golden brown and an internal temperature reads 200 degrees, about 20 to 25 minutes. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and brush over the tops of the rolls as soon as they come out of the oven. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Per serving: 210 calories; 90 calories from fat (43 percent of total calories); 11 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 50 mg cholesterol; 24 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 3 g protein; 150 mg sodium.

Barbecue-spiced turkey

Start to finish: 3 hours (30 minutes active)

Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy

It occurred to us recently that many of the same flavors we crave on grilled meats during the summer also would be superb on roasted turkey at Thanksgiving. After all, cumin and chili powder and garlic and onion and thyme and smoked paprika don’t just play well with beef and ribs. They’re also splendid on turkey, not to mention alongside stuffing and mashed potatoes.

So we decided to see what would happen if we created a spice rub for our Turkey Day bird using the same ingredients we often reach for in a barbecue rub. The result was wonderful. Even better was the gravy we got from the bottom of the roasting pan.

Looking for sides that play up everything going on with this bird? Consider a cornbread-based stuffing, roasted sweet potatoes (perhaps with a dash of chili powder) and roasted squash drizzled with cumin-spiked butter. Recipe by Alison Ladman of The Associated Press.


4 large yellow onions, quartered

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional, more or less to taste)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

One 12- to 14-pound turkey

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 cups turkey, chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons instant flour, such as Wondra


Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Scatter the onions over the bottom of a roasting pan and fit a roasting rack over them.

In a medium bowl, mix together the brown sugar, paprika, thyme, cumin, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons black pepper. Mix well, then add the butter and mash together to form a smooth paste.

Use paper towels to pat the turkey dry all over. Smear the spiced butter mixture all over the turkey, being sure to get it under the skin as well as in the cavity. Place the turkey on the rack in the prepared pan. Roast for 2 to 21/2 hours, covering the turkey with foil if the skin begins to darken too much. By the end of roasting, the temperature of the breast should reach 160 degrees and the thigh should reach 170 degrees.

Move the turkey to a serving platter and cover first with a layer of foil, then with several layers of clean kitchen towels to keep warm. Remove the rack from the pan and use a slotted spoon to lift the onions out and transfer to a blender.

Place the roasting pan over medium heat on the stove top and add the wine. Bring to a simmer and use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Whisk in the stock, tomato paste and vinegar. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking and heating until the gravy thickens.

Carefully pour the gravy from the pan into the blender with the onions. Purée until smooth. Adjust the seasoning with salt and black pepper, if needed. Serve with the turkey.

Per serving (based on 18 servings): 380 calories; 130 calories from fat (34 percent of total calories); 15 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 195 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 51 g protein; 390 mg sodium.