Are you headed to purchase a turkey and wondering what weight you can expect? You aren’t alone! Knowing how much the average turkey weighs can help you to plan your holidays (or next dinner) more easily.
While turkey weights can vary widely between 7 and 35 lbs. depending on the time of year and location, the average turkey sold in the store weighs between 18 and 20 lbs.
If you want a turkey much larger or smaller than this, it can be beneficial to reserve a turkey, especially if you want one that is as large as possible, as these tend to sell quickly.
Read on to learn all about nuances of average turkey weights, information about smoking a turkey for this holiday season, and even some interesting data about how live turkeys have seasonal weights (kind-of like our holiday pounds, only backwards)!
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Do Fresh and Frozen Turkeys Have Different Weights?
Technically, frozen turkeys are heavier than fresh ones. This is because the moisture in a frozen turkey has been turned to ice, increasing the weight of the bird.
However, you’re not being short-changed. The weight listed on a frozen turkey for sale is the weight of the bird was before it was frozen. So, while it may weigh a little more if you step on your scale with your frozen bird, the weight on the package will accurately display the weight of the consumable meat.
I recommend purchasing a fresh bird whenever possible as the quality of a fresh turkey is much better than a frozen one… if you have an option to do so in your area!
If you do end up buying a frozen turkey, check out our article Is it Thawed? for turkey thawing tips!
Will Additives or Ingredients Affect the Average Turkey Weight?
If you’re buying a pre-brined turkey, or one that has added spices or flavorings, this will definitely affect the weight. Look on the label for a gross weight or a pre-brined weight. This will tell you how much the bird weighed before it was brined or stuffed.
If you can’t find it, I recommend going a pound or two up in size just to ensure you have enough to feed everyone!
Speaking of Feeding Everyone. How Much Turkey Should You Buy Per Person?
One of the main reasons you are probably looking at turkey weight is because you are wondering how much turkey you need to plan to buy!
As a general rule of thumb, I recommend planning for ½ lb. of cooked turkey for each person you plan to feed, especially if you’ve got a bunch of sides to serve! If you are just smoking your turkey in the summer for fun and don’t have all the holiday fixings, then plan for ¾ lb. of cooked turkey per person.
Because I love leftovers, I always plan for 1 lb of raw turkey per person. And I also like to add an extra 2 lbs to the total just to be sure there is enough to go around. Here’s a handy chart to help you determine the size of turkey to buy:
|Number of People||The Weight of Turkey Needed (lbs.)|
|4||7 (this is the smallest anyway!)|
|24||26 (or as big as possible!)|
If you are only cooking turkey breast, the amount of raw meat will be different from this whole-turkey chart.
Will a Cooked Turkey Weigh Less Than a Raw One?
Yes! As you cook a turkey, the moisture in the meat will evaporate, leaving your turkey lighter than it was before. On average, a turkey loses 25% of its weight during the cooking process.
In the chart provided above, I already accounted for this, as most people cannot eat a full pound of cooked turkey; rather, they usually eat 1/2-3/4 lb. This means as long as you plan a full raw pound for each guest, you should have plenty of turkey, even with shrinkage.
So What Size Turkey Should You Buy?
Beyond the chart above, which tells you what size turkey you will need to feed everyone, it’s important also to consider how you plan to cook your turkey before you buy.
For example, if you are planning to smoke your turkey, then it’s REALLY important to know if it will fit on your pellet grill or smoker! Generally, you’ll need to stick to a bird under 15 lbs. Also, remember that your cooking time will depend on the size of the turkey; a 24 lb turkey, even if it fits in your smoker, will take an insanely long time to cook!
So if you are preparing to feed a crowd, smoking two 10 lb. turkeys will be a better option on a smoker than one 20 lb. bird.
If you are cooking in a standard conventional oven, then a 20-24 lb bird should fit easily.
Are you planning to deep-fry your turkey? Check the size of your pot, however, in most cases, anything up to a 20 lb bird should fit without too much struggle, though a smaller bird might be easier to handle.
Myth or Fact: Small Turkeys Taste Better
Myth! The taste and flavor of a turkey depend widely on who is cooking the bird. If you baste and smoke it properly, it will be delicious no matter what the size!
Small turkeys might be more tender than large turkeys (it could have been slaughtered at a younger age). HOWEVER, this is not always true. A 17lb turkey could be an old hen turkey instead of a young tom turkey. So the tenderness of your bird isn’t written in stone (or on a scale)!
How Long Does a Large Turkey Take to Cook?
The amount of cooking time will vary depending on your cooking method. I advise everyone to allow 20-30 minutes per pound of turkey when they are smoking it at temperatures of 275°-325°F.
In the oven, that time drops to about 15 minutes per pound of turkey. For deep fryers, you’ll need to only plan on 3-4 minutes per pound of turkey.
Do Different Breeds of Turkeys Weigh Different Amounts?
Oddly, yes. The type of turkey you are looking to buy will have a huge effect on the average weight you will see as you shop.
The two main turkeys you will see in the US are Heritage turkeys and Production turkeys.
Heritage turkeys can sometimes also be called wild turkeys. They breed naturally and typically are allowed to roam. This makes them smaller than production turkeys.
Production turkeys are a breed of turkey that has been made in captivity using gene splicing. As a result, they grow larger and meatier than Heritage turkeys. They are usually conceived via artificial insemination, and while they may be labeled as “free range,” Production turkeys cannot survive in the wild on their own and are all farm-raised.
Turkeys Have Seasonal Pounds Too
Alright, here’s something crazy – live turkeys are the smallest in October and November. Check it out. This chart comes from the USDA:
|Month||Average Live Turkey Weight (lbs)|
How weird! But why is this?
Turns out, as the holidays draw near, most turkey farms need to send as many of their birds to slaughter as possible in order to meet holiday demand. This means that a bird that would normally be allowed to make it to 35 lbs before slaughter would be slaughtered early when he was only 29 lbs in order to be ready for the holiday season. It’s our holiday pounds but in reverse!
Does any of this determine when you should buy your turkey? It depends! It may be easier to get a bigger turkey (that you’d obviously have to keep frozen) earlier in the calendar year. But it depends, like I mentioned earlier, if you’d prefer a fresh or frozen bird.
Why do live turkey weights differ from the ones I buy?
When a turkey is slaughtered and prepared for sale, parts of the turkey are removed. This is why the live weights are so much higher than the average weight in the store. A turkey which was 41 lbs at slaughter, will be about 24 lbs. in the store. This means a turkey in the store is about 10-15 lbs. less of its live weight.
Also – a key factor determining a turkey’s weight is whether or not it was male or female. Female turkeys typically only get up to 26 or 27 lbs when they are full-grown, while a male turkey can get all the way up to 45 lbs.
If you buy a turkey in the store and it is 16 lbs. or less, it was probably a female (called a hen). If it is 17 lbs. or more, it was likely a male turkey (called a Tom).