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Mass Production Cooking/cooking thanksgiving for 250


QUESTION: Hi there, My name is Shannon and I have a small catering biz of my home. I just recently got offered a job to cook Thanks giving meal for 250 people. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, stuffing, peas and cranberry sauce.
Although I have cooked Mexican and Italian for that many plus in my very small kitchen I am nervous about this meal. Do you have any suggestions that could help? can I cook turkeys in electric roasters? How many pounds of yams and potatoes do I need? How do I cook that many yams? Help!! Thanks Shannon

ANSWER: Hey Shannon!
No sense in worrying, you can do it.  I've made this very meal perhaps 100 times, once for 800 people and it's one of the easier meals for a caterer to pull off.

First, forget about whole turkeys.  They are difficult to cook, very hard to portion and include a tremendous amount of waste for a caterer.  Cook Turkey Breast.  This takes up much less oven space, can be sliced to consistent portions, and even prepared ahead of time and re-heated.

Prepare 8 ounces raw turkey breast for each person. (You'll need 125 pounds of turkey breast) With cooking loss and trim loss, you'll wind up with about 4-6 ounce portions cooked.  You roast the turkey to the safe temperature of 165F, slice it into 4 ounce portions, "shingle" in in a hotel pan and cover with gravy.  This can go right into a chafing dish, or chilled and reheated later.  When reheating, keep the hotel pan covered to avoid drying out, and reheat to 140F as quickly as possible.  In other words, you can do this 1-2 days ahead of time.

Second, the best way to mass-produce potatoes and yams is by simmering or steaming.  Portion 6 ounces raw, peeled potatoes per person.  Simmer or steam them and whip  in a large mixer with milk, butter and seasonings.  This also goes into a hotel pan for the chafing dish and can be made ahead of time and GENTLY reheated before service.

I used to serve "smashed" potatoes where we left the skin on 50% of the potatoes and coarsely mashed them to purposely leave lumps.  They were a hit and meant I didn't need to whip perfectly smooth spuds.

Third, yams can be made in casserole.  Like potatoes, start with 6 ounces raw, peel and slice, cover with whatever sauce (honey/cinnamon, etc) and roast like a casserole.  You can set up your hotel pans with the prepared yams and "fire" them 1 hour before service.

Portion 2-3 ounces bread-based stuffing per person.
Portion 3-4 ounces peas per person.  Keep them in vegetable or chicken broth during service or they will get cold very quickly.  They need insulation like a sauce or broth to stay hot.

Portion 2 ounces per person cranberry sauce.

You will have leftovers, but at least you'll have enough for everyone to have a choice.

Since you are a professional caterer, I'm sure you know the AWESOME responsibility you have to keep food safe.  All foods must be cooked to 165F final temperature, cooled to 70F within 2 hours, then to 40F within 2 more hours and reheated to service to 140F within 2 hours.  This keeps bacterial growth to a minimum.

You MUST have chafing dishes or a way to keep the food above 140F during service. The worst possible thing that could happen to you is to make 250 people sick.

The most important issue is safety.  The second most important for a caterer is profit.  Be sure that you've costed this menu properly.  Figure the cost of your ingredients and apply a factor equal to your food cost.  Most catering companies run a 20-25% food cost.  That means if it costs you $100 for the ingredients, you should charge a total of $400-$500 for the meal.  Divide by 250 people to get the per-person price.

It would really suck to work very hard on an event and not make any money.  Lastly, consider donating any leftovers to local shelter or community organization feeding our homeless.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi there, the client for this thanksgiving dinner has asked for some full turkeys and also turkey breast. How long do you digest cooking them and do you have a special seasoning that you like to put on ? Thank You Shannon

Turkeys are not cooked by time, but by internal temperature.
To be fully cooked and safe, take the temperature of the whole, unstuffed turkey between leg and thigh bone.
For turkey breast, insert a thermometer in the thickest part.
For a stuffed turkey, read the temperature from the middle of the stuffing.

Final finished temperature should be 165F and the food must be held hot at 140 or above through service.

The best seasonings for turkey are thyme, rosemary and sage, along with salt and pepper.

Good luck!

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Chef Todd Mohr. CCE


I'd be glad to answer your questions about how basic cooking methods apply equally to cooking for two in your home, or 1000 for an event. Please don't ask me how much to order from the caterer or deli. That's up to them to consult you on. If you are doing the actual cooking, I can help. My expertise is in cooking for more than 100 people. Your questions concerning cooking methods, amount to purchase, portioning, strategies for food service, and food safety for large production are welcomed. There are plenty of recipe websites on the internet. Please don't ask me for recipes. I don't believe in written instructions for cooking anyway. The more information you give while asking your question, the better response I can give. "How do I feed 100 people at my daughter's wedding?" is too broad of a question. "If I plan to offer chicken and beef for 100 people, how much chicken should I purchase?" is a better question. Visit my website at LIKE ChefToddMohr on Facebook Subscribe to ChefToddMohr on YouTube


I'm certified by the American Culinary Federation as a Certified Culinary Educator. I'm currently a Chef Instructor at three different culinary schools in Baltimore, Maryland. Previously an Executive Chef at a large hospital, feeding 3000 people three times daily over 8 different menus. Also a Chef at The National Security Agency in Washington, DC, part of a team feeding 15,000 people twice daily. Then, General Manager/Executive Chef of various Business Dining Cafeterias, feeding thousands daily. My catering company has hosted many large events, feeding up to 1000 people.

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Bachelor of Arts, Long Island University Associate of Arts, Baltimore International Culinary College

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Certified Culinary Educator (ACF)

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My catering company has had many of the nations largest companies as clients.

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