What’s the Right Amount of Meat to Serve per Person?

updated Nov 20, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Two slabs of beef, topped with some pesto sauce, on a serving platter

Planning a whole dinner party can sometimes feel like a giant logic puzzle: If we serve this dessert, then we’ll do that appetizer. And, if a certain person comes, then we won’t serve those types of foods, and on and on! Deciding how much meat to buy per person is all part of the game.

How do you figure it out? The best way to approach this is to learn the typical portion size (per person) for the meat you plan to serve. Then, plan the rest of your menu and adjust accordingly. Whether you’re cooking for four people or 40 people, there’s an easy way to solve this math puzzle.

Meat Serving Size Guide

A lot of different factors can go into meat-buying puzzle, but it helps to start with a broad idea of what a typical portion size is for a given type of meat.

Credit: Kitchn
How Much Meat Per Person?

Now you can multiply the serving size by number of servings. For example, if you’re serving 6 people steak, you can plan on buying 4.5 pounds (or 72 ounces).

Plan Your Menu

Now you have a general idea of how much meat you’ll need. But what else are you planning to serve? If this is a simple salad-main-dessert type menu, you’re probably good to go. If this meal is going to have appetizers and multiple sides, though, you’ll want to scale back the meat in proportion.

That’s why it’s helpful to plan your entire menu before you buy your meat. 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. Will some of the guests be children? Are any vegetarian or vegan?

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?

Is the Meat the Main or a Component?

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, turkey or pork, where meat is the main dish of the meal and paired with a few side dishes, we recommend about 1/2 pound (eight ounces) per person, or up to 3/4 (12 ounces) pound for bigger appetites and those who love leftovers.

In other words, if you’re cooking for 10 people, you’ll want at least five pounds of meat total. For 20 people, plan to purchase 10 or more pounds of meat.

When Meat Is a Component of a Dish

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. That means you’ll want at least 2 1/2 pounds of meat if you’re planning to have 10 people over to dinner, and 5 or more pounds of meat if you’re cooking for 20 guests.

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.