Here is a quick guide to help make hosting during the holiday season so much easier. Know exactly how much turkey and ham to prepare per person for your next holiday meal.
Hosting your family's holiday lunch or holiday dinner can be quite hectic, especially when it comes to knowing how big of turkey or ham you will need to prepare. Too little of the main course leads to an awkward conversation, while too much food can be wasteful and expensive. Here’s a simple guide for home cooks on how much turkey and ham you need per person during the holidays. Perfect for beginners and experienced cooks!
Have guests RSVP to know how much turkey or ham to prepare
Having a rough estimate of the number of guests you will be serving is a good starting point before heading to the grocery stores. The number of people will largely determine the amount of meat you will need to prepare, but keep in mind that these are rough estimates. Some guests may be big eaters, on a diet, bring someone last minute, or even cancel. It's not a precise science, but a general rule of thumb is to have a generous estimate when it comes to serving size. One thing that often is overlooked is whether or not your guests have food allergies, or lifestyle preferences such as gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian. Make sure to include a section on the RSVP card where guests can list problematic foods.
Send out your RSVPs 4 -6 weeks in advance, with at least 2 to 3 weeks to prepare the final guest list and purchase the food.
What size ham to buy?
How much ham you need depends on the weight and whether you’re buying a boneless or bone-in ham. Remember, it's always better to have a little more than too little. Roughly you will need around ½ a pound of ham per person for boneless ham and ¾ of a pound of ham per person for bone-in ham.
- For 8 people: get a 4-5 pound boneless ham.
- For 12 people: get a 6-8 pound boneless ham.
- For 16 people: get an 8-10 pound boneless ham.
- For 8 people: get a 6-8 pound bone-in ham.
- For 12 people: get a 10-12 pound bone-in ham.
- For 16 people: get a 12-14 pound bone-in ham.
For less than 8 people, I recommend buying a 4-5-pound ham, which will be enough ham for the party and for leftovers.
For a larger gathering of more than 16 people, consider buying two smaller hams if it's challenging to find a ham large enough.
What size turkey to buy?
Approximately 1 pound of turkey per person is enough turkey for a dinner party. If you plan on having any leftovers aim for 1 ½ pounds of turkey per person. As stated above, it’s always best to have a little extra turkey than not enough, so I recommend:
- For 8 people: get a 10-12 pound turkey.
- For 12 people: get a 14-18 pound turkey.
- For 16 people: get an 18-24-pound turkey. (see recommendation below)
For less than 8 people, I recommend buying a 10-12 pound turkey. A smaller turkey size will be mainly composed of bones without much meat.
For more than 16 people, I recommend two smaller turkeys instead of a massive bird. The larger the turkey the less likely it is to cook evenly and takes up a lot of oven space. Instead, prepare two 12-14-pound turkeys. If you do not have a double oven, you could try smoking, grilling, or frying the additional turkey.
When should you thaw the turkey?
Place the turkey on a baking sheet or roasting rack to help collect the juices. After your turkey has been thawed, you can keep it stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
Salt Brine: This does not take into account the amount of time needed for a dry or wet salt brine which is recommended 24-48 hours in advance before cooking.
In the refrigerator thawing time:
- 4-12 pounds: 1-3 days thawing time.
- 12-16 pounds: 3-4 days thawing time.
- 16-20 pounds: 4-5 days thawing time.
- 20-24 pounds: 5-7 days thawing time.
How long to bake your ham or turkey?
- Ham baking time: 10 to 12 minutes per pound. Since the ham is already pre-cooked, the "baking process" is to flavor the ham. You can reglaze the ham every 30 minutes.
- When to remove the ham: Make sure your ham is thoroughly warmed through by using your thermometer to see if the internal temperature reads 130°F.
- Turkey baking time: Roast your turkey breast side up for 13-15 minutes per pound depending on if it's stuffed or not. All ovens vary but try to aim for the turkey to be cooked and out of the oven 30-60 minutes before guests arrive. This will give the turkey enough time to rest and time to carve.
- When to remove the turkey: You want the turkey breast to measure 165°F, and using an instant-read-thermometer is recommended. To avoid an overcooked turkey, you can safely remove the bird once the internal temperature reaches 155°F-160°F. As the roast turkey rests (30 minutes to 1 hour is ideal), the residual heat will force the internal temp to continue to rise, so it eventually hits that goal temperature without going over.
What to do with leftovers?
Having too many Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving leftovers the next day isn't always a bad thing. There are plenty of ways to use leftover turkey and ham without being too repetitive. After a busy holiday, my house always looks forward to leftovers for at least a day or two. We make cold turkey sandwiches, and my mini gluten-free biscuit chicken pot pies recipe, substituting the chicken for turkey of course. Another option is to send your guests home with leftovers in a cut little to-go box. Don't forget to save the turkey carcass to make homemade stock for soup and gravy.
Tips for a successful turkey or ham bake
- Completely thaw your frozen turkey - While ham comes either pre-baked or thawed, you'll want to aim for at least 3-5 days of defrosting time for your turkey depending on its size.
- Brine the turkey - This will help tenderize the meat and enhance its flavors. You can do a wet or dry brine 24-72 hours before preparing the turkey.
- Pat the turkey dry - You want the turkey to be completely dry the day of baking. Pull the fresh turkey out of the refrigerator 1 hour before baking and allow it to come to room temperature. After 1 hour, pat it dry with a paper towel both inside the cavity and outside, then proceed to coat it in your choice of oil, butter, spices, or fresh herbs.
- Ham, it's all about the glaze! When it comes to ham if it's cured, smoked, or baked, the ham is considered “pre-cooked, so all you need to do is warm it through with your choice of glaze.
- Use a meat thermometer - Cooking times vary depending on your choice of meat, but an instant-read-thermometer is always recommended for accuracy.