Have you ever been to a party where the food ran out?
Everyone is circling that last rib, chicken leg or slice of beef like a pack of wolves. You pleasantly offer up the last morsel as a goodwill gesture, hoping everyone will decline so you can devour it.
It’s an awkward situation for everyone, but one that can be avoided if you know how much meat per person you need to plan for.
Unless you are a seasoned chef or experienced caterer, it’s hard to know how much meat, poultry or fish to buy.
When planning for the party, you usually think of the main course first, the meat. You’ll need to decide how many different types and how much meat per person.
The other factors include whether your guests are adults, kids or teenagers, and how many side dishes you’ll serve.
In this article, I’ll start with the approximate meat portion for everyone. I’ll then show you how to adjust those portions once you’ve figured out the menu.
This way, you will have enough for everyone, save money and not have too much leftover.
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Average Portion Sizes for Meat
There are standard portion sizes for meat and other proteins like fish and poultry. We’ll use them to begin our calculations for the right amount of meat to buy when shopping.
For this discussion, let’s assume you are feeding adults only. For kids, cut it back and for teenagers, bump it up.
- A good portion size for any protein is half a pound or 8 ounces (227 gm) of raw meat.
- Use ¾ pound or 12 ounces (340 gm) when serving meat with only two or three side dishes.
- Reserve a pound each for big eaters (athletes, teenagers, and others)
The difference in weight from raw to cooked is called the yield. It’s a calculation of the percentage of loss from shrinkage, trimmings, and bones. Yield is what’s left to serve.
Now, before your eyes glaze over thinking you need to know a lot of math, it’s going to be easy.
Know the Yield, or You Won’t Have Enough
Ever notice how burger restaurants advertise a 1/4-pound burger? But, you don’t get served a 1/4-pound burger in your bun, do you? That’s because it shrinks during cooking.
McDonald’s has an asterisk by their quarter pounder that states, “Weight before cooking at least 4 ounces.” They shrink by 31% after cooking due to fat and moisture loss.
30% is about average for most fatty meats especially ground meat, and that yield number is critical to know when calculating how much raw product to buy.
And it’s vital to know if you are serving a lot of people.
Here are some sample yields of different meats after cooking:
- Steak (NY Strip) – 84%
- Baby Back Ribs – 50%
- Brisket – 50%
- Pork Shoulder – 62%
- Whole Turkey – 50%
If you like information overload, you can download a PDF from the USDA called USDA Table of Cooking Yields for Meat and Poultry and get precise yields for many different cuts of meat.
In the following section, I won’t get into the calculations but will provide some guidelines for your consideration when planning your upcoming party so you can accurately plan meals for any group event, dinner or party..
All it really means is you have to plan to buy a bit more to make up for cooking and trimming losses.
How Much Pulled Pork per Person?
For pulled pork, you will use pork shoulder or pork butt, A.K.A a Boston butt. You can buy it bone in or bone out.
There is a lot of loss, between 35% to 50% from bones and the fat that either melts during cooking or gets trimmed away. You can usually get 4.5 lb. of meat from an 8-lb. butt and that will feed 10 to 15 people depending upon appetite and side dishes.
Plan on serving 1/4lb. per person for sandwiches and 1/3 lb. for plates.
How Much Beef Brisket per Person?
Like pork butt, beef brisket has a lot of fat both on the inside and out.
Typically, you’ll only get a 50% yield from a full, untrimmed brisket after trimming and cooking, which means you need a 12-pound brisket to make 6 pounds of meat. You often lose a good 15%+ weight from trimming a brisket before you even start cooking!
Portions start at 4 ounces for sandwiches and up to a whole pound for big eaters on football day.
If you feed ten hungry football fans a half pound of brisket, you’ll need to start with 10 pounds to end up with the necessary 5.
How Much Chicken per Person?
When it comes to chicken, sometimes it’s easier to plan by counting parts and pieces instead of weight. Boneless chicken breast comes in sizes ranging from 4 to 8 ounces. However, for bulk meat like boneless thighs, we will figure by the pound.
Use 1.5 pieces boneless chicken breast per person if you are serving other meats and dishes. For bone-in chicken, plan on ¼ of a chicken or two pieces per person. That would be a wing and breast or drumstick and thigh.
For boneless thigh meat, plan on 6 ounces per cooked portion. With a 70% yield, you’ll need to buy a half pound of raw thigh meat per person.
How Much Turkey Per Person?
We rarely eat turkey by itself, use an 8-ounce portion per person. With all the skin and bones, you’ll be lucky to get a 50% yield by the time you pull off every scrap of meat.
To feed 12 people, you need to buy a minimum of a 12-pound turkey.
However, it would be wiser to buy a 14 to 16-pound bird because most people want a nice slice of breast meat and not scraps from the leg and wings.
How Much Steak Per Person?
To answer this question, you’ll need to know what kind of steak you will serve.
Steaks with bones like T-bones and porterhouse, or those with more fat like rib eyes, will yield less. That means you need more per person.
The following yields assume you are buying individual, pre-cut and trimmed steaks. If you plan on cutting your own, the yields will be much lower. Here are typical yields of common steaks
- T-bone – 77%
- Porterhouse – 77%
- N.Y. Strip Steak – 89%
Let’s use 70% as an average yield and 12 ounces per portion.
For bone-in steak, buy 17 ounces per person and 13 to 14 ounces for boneless steaks.
How Many Pounds of Ribs per Person?
Most people use a count of ribs instead of weight. For example, a half rack of baby back ribs contains 6 to 7 ribs. For large buffets with other meat and sides, you can estimate three ribs per person.
There is a difference in size between spare ribs and baby backs. A rack of baby back ribs has 10 to 13 ribs that are 3 to 6 inches long and only weigh about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. They will only feed two people.
Spare rib racks are larger, fattier and have bigger bones. They weigh at least 2 ½ pounds or more and can feed 3 to 4 people.
How Much Beef Tenderloin per Person?
Filets or beef tenderloin steaks have little fat and do not shrink that much during cooking. You may lose 10% at the most so to serve a 12-ounce portion plan on buying 13-ounce steaks.
How Much Rib Roast per Person?
Rib roasts have about 30% bones and fat. For a generous 12-ounce cooked portion, you’ll need to buy 15 to 16 ounces per person.
For ten people, start with a 10-pound roast minimum.
How Much Fish per Person?
For most finfish like bass and salmon, an 8-ounce portion is a typical serving size. You’ll lose about 30% through cooking so figure 11.4 ounces raw fish per person for steaks and fillets.
Use the Palm of Your Hand to Visualize the Right Portion Size
Portion control is what makes or breaks most caterers and restaurants. The entire menu cost revolves around the size of the portion. Make the portions too large, and you’ll lose money.
While you are not concerned with losing money for your party, you don’t want to overspend. That’s where portion control comes in.
To help answer the question, “How much meat per person?” just look at your hand. A right portion size of meat is the same size as the palm of your hand. The “palm-size” rule works for everyone because hands are in the right proportion whether you are an adult man or a 6-year-old girl.
Sometimes it’s easier to visualize a portion size this way.
It’s Easy to Plan How Much Meat to Buy
It’s important to know how to plan how much meat to buy. Just be a little generous and add a bit more here and there to ensure you have enough to keep everybody happy.
One last piece of advice. If you use 12 ounces as your portion size and you are serving two or more different meats, just divide the portion size by the number of meats to work out how much to buy of each kind.
Two types of meat, 6 ounces each, three kinds of meat, 4 ounces each and so on.
If you use meat as an appetizer course, reduce the portion sizes down to 1/2 to 1/4 of the main course size.
You’ll get the hang of it after your first party. If you’re still not sure how much meat to buy, ask your butcher or the person in the meat department of your grocery store. They’ll be happy to help.