How to Adjust Recipe Servings for Any Size of Thanksgiving Dinner

Here are our Test Kitchen's tips for dividing and multiplying recipes.

A roasted turkey breast with herbs and lemon on a platter

Thanksgiving gatherings may be different this year, but fortunately, many recipes can easily be divided or multiplied depending on how many people wind up coming to dinner. One disclaimer: Scaling is not ideal for recipes that rely on getting just the right ratio and balance of ingredients, such as yeast breads, soufflés, custards and some delicate sauces. That said, let me do my best to help you out!

A Word on the Bird. When it comes to turkey, if you are just serving a few people and don't want tons of leftovers, consider making a turkey breast, such as the Herb Roasted Turkey Breast pictured above. Or if you prefer dark meat, make Herb Roasted Turkey Legs. If you are feeding a larger crowd you can make one turkey in the oven and an extra breast in the slow cooker.

Prep Time. Halving a recipe doesn't usually mean half the work. Increasing a recipe? Plan for more prep time.

Pan Size. Scaling a recipe down often means using a smaller pan for stovetop and oven cooking, while the opposite is true if you're doubling a recipe. Either way, the ingredients should still fill around two-thirds of your pan. To determine how big you'll need to go, look at the volume of the recipe. If it makes 4 cups filling an 8-inch-square pan, scale up to a baking dish that holds 8 cups, such as a 9-by-13. (If you have two of the pans the recipe calls for, fill those. That can be easier than trying to shove all the food into one larger pan. )

Temperature. Though it may be tempting to turn the heat up or down depending on if you're making more or less, stick to the temp the recipe calls for.

Cook Time. A common misconception is that cutting a recipe in half will also halve the time. But scaling down actually takes about 75% of the time listed. My rule of thumb: Set a timer for 25% less time than is called for and then check the food every few minutes, as necessary. If you're scaling up, set a timer for the cook time in the recipe and check it every few minutes after that. Whichever way you're scaling, refer to visual indicators of doneness like browning. If a recipe says, "Cook until golden brown," look for that instead of only relying on the time. A meat thermometer is also your friend and can help prevent undercooking and overcooking.

Spices & Seasonings. Always taste your dish as you adjust the seasonings. A doubled recipe may need 50% more seasonings than the original recipe calls for. A halved recipe might need a little less than half. You can always add more in, but you can't take it away!

Of course, if you make too much you can always freeze it: See our tips for freezing leftovers and freezing baked goods.

BREANA KILLEEN, M.P.H., R.D., is the EatingWell Test Kitchen manager.

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