The toughest part of organizing an event isn’t the guest list, the decorations, or the beer run. It’s figuring out how much food to make to satisfy every guest.
An epic BBQ can become a bummer if there isn’t enough food to go around. After all, the food is the main event. However, you also don’t want to waste money or throw away leftovers if you buy too much.
Naturally, you want to make the perfect amount of food for everyone. As BBQ veterans, we have years of experience and plenty of pro tips to share.
Follow this guide, and you’ll serve the perfect amount of food for each guest—no more, no less.
Main Considerations for Planning Your BBQ Menu
You’ll need to answer some questions about your event before deciding how many ingredients to buy.
What Kind of Event Is It?
When you serve barbeque, you have to be specific about the size of your event.
A casual afternoon luncheon will need more food than a low-key kickback in the park, and an all-out block party bash with dozens of people requires a hefty feast.
Remember that people won’t eat as much if the event is earlier in the day or between meal times, while a boozy evening event will need more food.
What Are the Guests’ Expectations?
Send your invitations with a clear vision that everyone understands. The more specific, the better—ambiguity is a chef’s enemy.
Whether you send individual texts, make calls, or use an email blast, summarize the menu and set expectations before guests RSVP.
This prevents people from showing up and expecting something you aren’t providing. Instead, everyone will be on the same page regarding appetite and expectations.
You can even ask guests to bring side dishes or beverages to make your life a little easier and create a family-style event.
What Resources and Tools Do You Have?
Maybe you don’t have a 94-gallon smoker or multiple grills in your backyard. Maybe you don’t want to spend days preparing side dishes ahead of time.
Keep it simple and cook things you already have experience making. Spend this time with your family and friends, and save that complicated new dish for another day.
Keep your limits in mind when configuring your guest list and buying ingredients. If you’re new to BBQ, keep your event small—around five to ten guests.
You’re going to need a grill or a smoker that’s large enough to suit your number of guests. You’ll also need somewhere to rest your meat and keep it warm, like an oven or another heating machine. You can even use an insulated cooler for this if needed.
Remember, even the best BBQ chefs are limited by the tools at their disposal, and you don’t want to push beyond your grill's capabilities. Be realistic about what you can pull off, and give yourself some breathing room so that you aren’t too stressed to enjoy your event.
How Much Time Do You Need?
Work backward from your serving time to figure out when you need to start prepping. Consider how long the meat needs to cook and rest, as well as how long it takes your smoker to get up to temp. You’ll also need to account for any prep time—trimming, seasoning, and making sides as needed.
Of course, planning starts even before the hands-on parts of an event. You’ll need to decide how much meat you’ll need to start in order to have the correct amount of meat after cooking since it’ll lose weight and volume as fat cooks out.
Know Your Audience
When your guest list is finalized, you can think about the amount of meat you need. Here’s a quick overview of how much meat you’ll want based on your guests’ age and appetites.
In general, each pound of BBQ feeds 3 to 4 people, especially if you’re serving sides.
You can expect most adult guests to eat ¼ to ⅓ pounds of meat each during your event.
Adults will likely be drinking, grazing on snacks, and filling up on sides, too. That means you can cut down your pound-per-person total a bit or plan for leftovers.
Remember, we’re talking about ¼ to ⅓ pounds total—not of each meat. If you’re serving multiple kinds of meat at your event, you’ll need less of each to reach this pound-per-person total.
When it comes to youngsters, portions are a toss-up. Kids can be picky and not take a single bite of meat, instead choosing to go all-in on sides like mac & cheese and potato salad.
Plan for ¼ pounds of meat per child. By staying towards the lower end of the adult average, you’ll be safe even if the little ones come with full-sized appetites.
Meat Amount By Type
Buying the right amount of meat isn’t intuitive, especially when your pound yields depend on cooking, bones, and other factors.
Here’s a guide to measuring specific types of meat.
Rather than going by the pound, consider the number of actual ribs. With other tasty dishes in the works, it’s safe to serve around five or six ribs per person.
This BBQ classic is a must-have at your next event, but beware that brisket loses around 30%-50% of its weight during smoking. Seven pounds of brisket cooks down to under five pounds when ready to serve, so keep this in mind when planning.
If you’ve got other meats and plenty of sides, just two pounds of brisket will cover a dozen people, with some leftovers to enjoy the next day.
Smaller servings of pulled pork go a long way since they are typically paired with buns and other sides to soak up the juices.
Provided you have all the fixings and other meats on deck, you can get away with seven pounds of pulled pork for more than a dozen people.
Burgers, Brats, and Dogs
It might seem like entry-level stuff, but BBQ pros know that beef patties and brats should always be ready in the fridge to serve unexpected guests and picky kids. Have a pack or two on hand, just in case.
Cover Your Condiment Bases
We focus so much on meat in our BBQ game plan that we sometimes forget other key components.
Too many events fail to meet their potential because organizers forget to stock up on condiments. You want to be as accommodating as possible—that means checking all the boxes for condiments.
Here are some suggestions to ensure you don’t fall short on flavor.
Sauces and Spreads
If you’ve got pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and other classics on the smoker, have plenty of extra sauces.
Load up a condiment dish and let your guests slather to their heart’s desire. You can also invest in a few of our pour spouts—they look great on a table while letting your guests portion the perfect amount of sauce.
Lillie's Q offers a variety of authentically crafted regional Southern sauces. You can serve your guests a taste of the South and select a sauce of their choosing. Spice things up with our Hot Smoky Barbeque Sauce, or bring the tang with our South Carolina mustard-based Gold Barbeque Sauce.
Plan Your Next BBQ Event Today
As BBQ pros, we approach every party with a foolproof strategy. That way, we get the most value out of every ounce of meat, every pint of potato salad, and every drop of sauce.
Planning and keeping it simple will let your guests enjoy the food and you enjoy time with your friends and family. Knowing how much meat you need for your BBQ will ensure its success.