When you're planning a get together, the last thing you need to do is worry about whether or not you're going to have enough food to go around. You have enough on your mind, and besides, you want to let go and have a good time too.
Plan the Menu
First of all, what kind of gathering is it going to be? An intimate soiree or a no-holds-barred ruckus? Will there be controlled portions, or is it an all-you-can-eat type of affair? Who's coming, and how big are their appetites?
You want to have an adequate table laid out, but you don't have to feed every glutton on the planet. After all, how much can one human being consume in the course of an afternoon or evening? If you're on a budget, you might consider making meat part of a larger dish, such as chili or gumbo. If you're grilling, though, meat is likely to be a big part of the menu.
What meat(s) are you planning, and what other dishes will be on the menu? Is meat the main attraction or a minor player? What's the best cut of ham, and how thin do you want to slice it? Are the sides filling, like potato salad, or light, like steamed greens? Will everyone have room for dessert?
Controlled Portions vs. Mass Consumption
If meat is going to be served in quantifiable portions – like hot dogs, hamburgers or tacos – figuring out how much is a matter of fairly simple arithmetic. How many people are coming? How many sliders or tacos or hot dogs do you consider an acceptable amount per person? Since you won't be policing your party, add in more for seconds or maybe even thirds.
Remember that the younger and more active your guests are, the more likely they are to bring big appetites. For example, teenagers tend to eat more than elders.
Pounds of Meat Per Person
If you're serving something like roast beef or fried chicken – that is, meat served by itself rather than as part of a combined dish – you need to come up with figures for ounces or pounds of meat per person. In general, this could be anywhere from 4 ounces per person up to 12 ounces or even more for big eaters.
If it's part of a combination dish – casseroles, stews, curries or the like – figure between 2 to 6 ounces per person.
Meat Shrinkage and Yield
Meat shrinks when it's cooked, some types more than others. What's left after cooking – the part you're going to eat – is called the yield. You don't have to have a higher degree in mathematics, but do keep a few approximate percentages in mind when buying raw meat.
There are charts available online for particular cuts of meat and their average yields, but in general, the fattier the meat is, the less yield it will have. Bone-in meats have less yield than boneless, and extremely bony pieces, such as wings and ribs, have a greatly reduced yield.
Meat Shrinkage and Yield Examples
For example, a full, untrimmed beef brisket will yield about 50 percent of its original weight after it's been trimmed and cooked. This means a 12-pound brisket will yield 6 pounds of meat. A bunch of hungry football players could very easily consume a pound each, which means if you want brisket for your party, you'd better get a lot of it (or invite fewer people).
On the other hand, boneless turkey thighs have a yield rate of 70 percent. Let's say you want to feed your 10 guests a generous 8 ounces per person and accompany it with side dishes. That means you need a total yield of 80 ounces, equaling 5 pounds. To calculate the amount of raw turkey you need to buy, divide 5 (pounds) by 70 (yield percentage) and then multiply by 100 (100 percent of the meat). The result, which rounds to approximately 7.25 pounds, is your answer.
You can use this method to determine how much raw meat you need as long as you have the yield percentage, charts for which can easily be found online.
Judith Tingley is a writer, editor and multi-media artist based in Louisville, Kentucky. The many articles she has written for online publications reflect a broad range of interests, including international travel, cultural history and cookery. She loves finding adventures along the back roads of America. Judith was educated at the University of Chicago. Visit her website at heyjudetheobscure.com.