Grilling and smoking your barbeque to perfection is the dream of every pitmaster. However, all meat tastes better when you’ve got people to share it with! BBQ began as a cooking method for large groups and it’s still a great way to feed a lot of people. The calculations can get a little tricky when you’re cooking for a larger group though and it’s easy to end up with either too much food or not enough.
Don’t worry! We’re here to help you break down the amount, meat type, and cost of different types of BBQ. You’ll be able to cook delicious meat for all of your guests so that everyone leaves full and happy.
Factors That Influence Portion Sizes
Before we start exploring the different types and cuts of meat, you need to find out a few things about your cookout group. First of all, you obviously want to know how many people will be there! Unexpectedly large groups can burn through your food in no time, while smaller groups can leave you drowning in leftovers.
The rule of thumb when it comes to BBQ serving sizes is to provide between 1/3 lb. and 1/2 lb. of meat per adult. This is enough meat to serve as a satisfying main course when you couple it with drinks, sides, and desserts. This is a good general guideline to follow, but some people aren’t heavy eaters, while others can pack food away like there’s no tomorrow.
When you plan a personalized cookout for your group, the first thing to do is get the most accurate head count that you can, including children.
Next, you need to find out the type of people that will be attending. If there are a lot of BBQ lovers and meat enthusiasts, you’ll probably want to prepare a few extra servings as a safety net. However, if it’s a group that includes picky eaters such as young children, senior citizens, or vegetarians you may want to scale back the amount of meat.
Typically adult men and teenagers eat the largest quantity of meat at a BBQ, so take stock of how many big eaters you’ll have in your group. They may need double or triple servings compared to everyone else.
Below we’ll break down the most popular types of meats and cuts for barbeque. The serving size chart is based on general assumptions of group sizes, so feel free to add or cut a few pounds depending on the size and composition of your group. The guides below can serve as a good starting point though! Also, please keep in mind that the price estimates will vary depending on the meat quality, brand, and availability in your area.
Beef is one of the most popular and versatile meats that’s used for barbequing. It comes in many forms and is often enjoyed by large groups. In fact, cuts like brisket and beef ribs are staples of this cooking style!
We’ll explore a few of the most popular cut styles below, but this chart should give you an idea of what to expect (price-wise) when it comes to meal prepping for large groups. This chart assumes that each person will eat 1/2 lb. of beef, and the averages vary depending on the meat quality and source. It’s only a baseline, so feel free to make changes based on your unique group.
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Beef brisket is one of the backbones of traditional BBQ. Brisket comes from the breast/lower chest area of a cow. They usually require long, slow cooking times. Brisket is usually a fairly large cut, so even though it might not cost much per pound, you’ll probably have to pay a fairly high price just to get your hands on one. Even small brisket cuts are usually a couple of pounds, so they’re often used to feed larger groups. One large brisket can feed 8-10 people easily! Unless you’re cooking for a large family reunion or party, you’ll usually be able to get by with just one decent beef brisket.
Ribs are another staple of the barbeque world. They can be bone-in or boneless when you serve them, but they’re typically cooked with the bones attached. Cows have 13-14 usable ribs, which are all attached together with meat and connective tissue. Some places sell full racks, but others split them into smaller sections with fewer ribs in each one. Most people will want to eat about 2-3 ribs each (this makes up about 1/2 lb. of meat). You’ll probably need to buy multiple rib racks if you want to provide enough for a group of 8 or more.
Tri-tips are beef cuts that come from the lower part of the sirloin. They are actually composed of a single muscle that’s called the tensor fasciae latae. Their composition makes them easier to carve, although they’re a bit smaller than other beef cuts. They usually only weigh about 2 lbs. so you’ll need to buy several of them if you’re planning on feeding a large group. This is a good choice for small cookouts though, and tri-tips are very popular for their flavor and tenderness.
Beef Chuck/ Clods
Beef chuck (aka clods) comes from the shoulder of a cow. There’s a lot of good muscle in this area, so chuck is a popular beef cut for cooking and barbecuing. When you see ground beef in a store, it usually comes from the chuck. Cow shoulders are pretty large, so a good cut of chuck can weigh up to 20 lbs. You get a lot of meat with this cut, so you should plan on feeding a large crowd! You could also break it into smaller pieces to use throughout the season, but fresh beef is usually best.
Pork is another big player in the BBQ world. Everyone loves to chow down on some sausage, crispy bacon, or sweet pulled pork. It’s also a bit cheaper per pound when compared to beef. We’ve got some of the prices and major pork cuts listed below.
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Although beef ribs are larger, pork ribs are also a popular meat choice for BBQers. They’re smaller and usually quite a bit cheaper than massive beef racks. They’re easier for casual grillers to handle as well, which may make them appealing for more laid-back gatherings. You usually need about 2 full racks to get 1 lb. of edible meat though, so you may spend more on pork ribs just because you need a larger quantity of them. Their tender texture and juicy flavor make it worth it though!
Pork shoulder goes by many names, including pork butt or Boston butt. Despite these misleading names, this cut of meat does indeed come from the shoulder of the pig. It’s a bit tougher than other cuts and it has a fairly high quantity of fat. It can weigh up to 10 lbs. so you can feed a pretty large group if you have a big slab of pork shoulder!
Pork loin is a bit smaller when compared to pork shoulder or ham. Each loin is only about 1-2 lbs. each so you’ll need to buy a few of them if you plan on hosting a large group. It’s very tender and flavorful meat when it’s prepared correctly though, so don’t be scared to use it!
Sausage and bacon are great pork products too, but it can be a bit harder to build a meal around those options.
If you’re more of a white meat person or just love a good piece of poultry, then chicken could be the right meat for your gathering. Chicken is tender and can easily be infused with delicious flavors. It’s a bit smaller overall than pork or beef cuts, but you can get a lot of good meat from a chicken.
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Some barbecuers like to cook up the whole chicken rather than break it down. This is a great way to make sure everyone is happy, and get a bit more bang for your buck. Whole chickens come in a range of sizes, but many people consider 5 lbs. to be the perfect weight. It might be harder to carve up a whole chicken, but you can feed a larger group with a single bird.
Chicken legs are usually called drumsticks or chicken quarters. These are relatively small, but they have a lot of good muscle and fat on them. They can pick up a great flavor on the grill and you can buy large packs of them. Each drumstick weighs about 4-5 ounces, so you’ll need to make sure there’s enough for every guest to get a couple of them.
Of course, we can’t get through the chicken section without mentioning wings! Even though chickens can’t fly, their wings serve a great purpose on the BBQ grill. Most chicken wings only weigh about 3 ounces, but you can buy them in large packages. Every guest should be able to get 3-5 wings to satisfy them. Make sure you prepare a few extras so you can have enough for all the wing fans in your group.
Although it’s not the most common meat at a BBQ, fish deserves a spot on the table. There are a few species that are more popular than others, but you can cook just about any kind. You can even grill up fish that you catch yourself! You can usually buy cheaper cuts of fish if they are small, or sold as fillets. Large fish are more expensive per pound, and that’s the main price listed below.
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Carp is one of the most common fish that you can catch. It’s easy to find small ones that only weigh a pound or two. However, larger fish can be sold for a pretty penny! Some carp can be 20 lbs. or heavier, which means they can feed big groups once you have it on hand. It’s much easier to buy fish that are 10 lbs. or less though, so think about cooking a few different types of meat, or supplementing the dish with a lot of sides.
A whole salmon weighs between 10-20 lbs., but store-bought fillets are about 4-6 ounces. You can feed a lot of people with one large salmon, but it can be quite pricey. Salmon may not be the best choice for large groups, so this may be better for smaller gatherings. It is a delicious type of fish though.
Tuna is a popular fish that can be used in salads, sandwiches, and even sushi. But did you know that this fish can also be great on the grill? Yellowfin tuna is the most common variety and it’s usually available in the form of fillets. Tuna can grow to be huge (up to 400 lbs.) but the commercially available ones are much smaller. Most tuna that’s for sale weighs between 1/2 lb. and 1 lb. so it’s best for small groups.
The meats listed above are the most common varieties to serve at a BBQ, but they’re definitely not your only option. As long as you can catch and clean it, you can cook it!
Popular alternative meats include:
Some pitmasters have even grilled animals like squirrels, raccoons, and alligators, so nothing is really off the table. It’s harder to get a definitive number for the price range of these animals because some of them will need to be specially imported, while others could be shot in your own backyard!
With some careful research and experimentation, you can make a good meal out of anything.
Meat is the star of any barbeque, but people usually want something else to round out the meal. If you’re having a hard time getting enough meat to fill everyone’s stomachs, or just want to provide lots of options, you can always turn to sides to help!
Side dishes can complement the meat beautifully, and they can add some extra spice, acid, or sweetness. Some of the most popular BBQ sides include:
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Potato Salad
- Cole Slaw
- Grilled Vegetables
There are no limits here, so feel free to get creative and think outside the box. A little serving of dessert never goes amiss either. As long as everyone has enough meat to feel satisfied, the sides and dessert just round it out.