How much power will Americans expend roasting their Thanksgiving turkeys? As it turns out, quite a lot.


Turkeys are bigger than they used to be, and roasting them takes longer. And the bigger the bird, the more cooking time. And the more cooking time, the greater the energy usage.

Welcome back. In this special Thanksgiving post, we explore questions related to turkey roasting and energy consumption. And we’ve done the math so you don’t have to.

First, let’s begin with a few assumptions. For purposes of our analysis, we’ll assume a typical-sized holiday bird weighs approximately 16 pounds, and that cooking such a 16 pounder will take approximately four hours with the oven set at 350 degrees.

Now, onward to the math.

A quick Internet check shows us that an electric oven draws about 2 kilowatts when set at 350 degrees. By multiplying 2 kilowatts by the assumed 4 hours of cook time, we can deduce that 8 kWh is expended roasting a typical Thanksgiving turkey.

Now consider that Americans consume approximately 45 million turkeys during Thanksgiving and that 63 percent of Americans use electricity for cooking. (That’s according to the National Turkey Federation and United States Energy Information Administration, respectively.) Extrapolating from these two data points (45 million times 63 percent), we can assume that 28.4 million turkeys will be cooked during the holiday using electricity.

But the math continues. Multiplying 28.4 million by 8 kWh, we arrive at this startling figure: Americans will expend 227 million kWh roasting Thanksgiving turkeys.

How much is 227 million kWh? A lot. 227 million kWh is approximately an hour’s worth of energy from 113,500 wind turbines, or an hour’s output from 186 big nuclear units. It’s also the approximate power of 454,000 sports cars. It’s also 227 gigawatts, which is an industrial-scale unit of energy.*

We also can deduce America’s price tab for its turkey roasting. Based on residential U.S. EIA pricing data, that total should come in at around $29 million, give or take. On a per-turkey basis, the roasting price for electricity comes to about 85 to 90 cents.

Now it’s also true that overall electric consumption in America likely will drop during  the Thanksgiving holiday because many big industrial and commercial users shutdown.  But that doesn’t mean your home power bill won’t go up. At least slightly.

“When you translate that to dollars spent on electricity for the day, it’s nowhere near what’s spent for holiday meal ingredients, but it still adds up,” said TXU Electric, in a recent blog post.

So remember: conserve where you can, enjoy your holiday — and whatever you do, don’t overcook that bird!

* 227 million kWh also is about the same amount of power produced by 189 Flux Capacitors, which is the fictional device that powered Doc’s time-traveling DeLorean in the Back To The Future movies.

— R.A. Dyer