Planning a whole dinner party can sometimes feel like a giant logic puzzle: If we serve this dessert, then we'll do that appetizer, but if that person comes, then we won't serve that, and on and on! Deciding how much meat to buy per person is all part of the game. How do you figure it out?
Whether you're cooking for four people or 40 people, there's an easy way to solve this math puzzle.
Plan Your Menu First
Before worrying about how much meat to buy, get started by planning your menu. Work backwards by looking at what else you want to serve, how the meat is going to be used, and what kind of appetites you think your guests will have.
It's important to consider the side dishes you plan to serve. Will they be something heavier, like pasta or potatoes, or on the lighter side, like sautéed greens or roasted veggies?
Consider the Role of the Meat
Next, think about the role meat will play in the meal. Now that the menu is planned, what role does meat play in the meal? Is it the main part of the meal to be served along with sides and a salad, or is it part of a broader dish, like a ragout or curry? Knowing the answer to this is crucial in determining just the right amount of meat to purchase and prepare.
- When Meat Is the Main: When cooking something like steak, roast, chicken, or pork, where meat is the main feature of the meal and paired with a few side dishes, we recommend about 1/2 pound (eight ounces) per person, up to 3/4 (12 ounces) pound for bigger appetites and those who love leftovers.
- When Meat Is Just a Part: If the meat is part of a bigger dish, like pasta or curry, plan for 1/4 to 1/3 pound (four to six ounces) per person.
There's usually a little more wiggle room in terms of number of servings with a large roast than there is with individually cut steaks or chicken breasts. If you're really unsure about how much people will eat, stay away from dishes with those individual cuts and go for a recipe that gives more leeway for portioning.
This post has been updated — originally published March 31, 2012.