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How big should your Thanksgiving turkey be?

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
In this image taken on Oct. 8, 2012, sage gravy is shown in Concord, N.H. AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

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 ample leftovers, aim for 1 12 pounds per person, no matter how big the turkey is.

8 people: Buy a 12-pound turkey

10 people: 15-pound turkey

12 people: 18-pound turkey

14 people: 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 roast

However you roast, use an instant thermometer inserted at the innermost part of the thigh or breast (without touching bone) to determine when your turkey is done. Roast to 170 degrees in the thigh and 160 degrees in the breast.

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 minutes 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.

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

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

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

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

The sides

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

Cranberry sauce: One12-ounce package of fresh cranberries makes about 2 14 cups of sauce; a 16-ounce can has 6 servings.

Gravy: Plan for 13 cup of gravy per person.

Green beans: 1 12 pounds of beans makes 6 to 8 servings.

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

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

The leftovers

For food-safety reasons, leftovers should be cleared from the table and refrigerated within 2 hours of being served.

After they are refrigerated, they should be consumed within three to four days. Leftovers can be frozen for three to four months. Although safe to consume after four months, they will start to develop an off-flavor.

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