It’s time to have a BBQ! You’re ready to party with friends, family and maybe a few neighbors or even colleagues. However, you have to know how much food to buy for your BBQ. Otherwise, you’re going to be left with stacks of meat in your fridge — or making a run to the grocery store in the middle of the festivities.
No one likes a panicked pitmaster, so you need to plan appropriately before every large BBQ cookout. That’s where we come in. We have the expertise to help you figure out how much BBQ you should make per person so your budget and street cred don’t take a nosedive.
Below, you’ll find everything from ideas on creating an airtight BBQ food calculator to choosing your slabs of meat. No one is going hungry on your watch, especially with this article in your back pocket!
Ah, the star of any cookout. Nothing beats the smell of a grill smoking food to perfection or the tangy zing of mouthwatering barbecue sauce. Everyone’s going to want in on this action, so be sure to have enough for your guests by figuring out how much meat to get per person for a BBQ.
Unfortunately, you can’t find a BBQ food calculator in your nearest office supply store. But you don’t need one. Instead, follow our rules of thumb below.
How much meat you need for a party depends on:
The guests you have coming can influence how much meat you’ll need for your BBQ, but so can the type of meat you serve. In general, use these estimates for different kinds of meat.
1. Whole chickens: If you’re grilling up whole birds, budget about a quarter per person. Decent-sized chickens can yield a breast per person for two people, while two others can each get a thigh and drumstick. Divide the number of guests by four to see how many chickens to buy if that’s the only meat you’ll have.
2. Chicken pieces: About three drumsticks is a reasonable estimate for one person, while you need seven to 10 chicken wings per person. One bone-in chicken breast is good for one person, but boneless is different. Estimate two boneless breasts or thighs per person. Keep these numbers in mind, especially if you’re mixing and matching chicken pieces.
3. Brisket: Letting the meat shine on its own and not on a sandwich means you’ll need half a pound to a full pound per person. On a sandwich, you’ll only need a quarter to a third of a pound per person. Just remember to buy enough buns!
4. Ribs: Whether you’re using beef or pork ribs, serve half a rack of baby back ribs per person. If you’re grilling larger spare ribs, you may only need a third of a rack per person. Stock up on napkins for this saucy meal.
5. Steak: Get one steak per person with a few extras. Choose cuts that are at least 16 ounces each, so there’s enough for everyone. If you’re cutting up the steak for kebabs, fajitas or tacos, a third to a half of a pound of steak will feed one. Save steaks for smaller gatherings, since the price will add up quicker than with other meats.
6. Hot dogs and burgers: Budget two hot dogs and two burgers per person. If your dogs are smaller, bump up the estimate to three, just to be safe. Get a variety of condiments and toppings so everyone can customize their hot dogs and burgers.
If you’re serving a combination of meat to your guests, things get a bit trickier. You want to have enough if everyone favors one option over the other, but you also don’t want to have too much. It may not be the best choice to go 50-50 in this case. But you don’t need enough for one serving per person for each kind of meat. Opt for between 50 to 75% of what you need for each type of meat you serve when going with variety.
Any of the numbers above can fluctuate if you’re loading up guests’ plates and stomachs with sides and snacks. You may need slightly less meat, but still, give yourself a generous estimate. Many people who attend BBQ cookouts focus on the main star of the meal. Sure, they’ll eat some other side dishes, but they’re mostly interested in your ribs or slow-cooked brisket. So when you’re figuring out how much food to buy for a BBQ, assume that the meat will be almost everyone’s main attraction.
That said, you can’t just serve up plate after plate of BBQ at your party. Your personalized BBQ food calculator is going to have to include some other eats and treats.
Again, the people coming to your party are going to drive your final figures when it to comes to determining how much food to buy for a BBQ overall. In general, we’ve found that the following amounts tend to feed one teen or adult person. Kids usually eat less, but maybe not. It all depends on the youngster.
You might end up with leftovers of your sides, based on how much food you have for your cookout. Some party guests may only want meat, or they may only take one side. Those amounts will also change depending on how much extra you add to your sides. If you jazz up some baked beans with onions, sauce and other spices — which you should — you’ll need fewer cans of beans overall.
Think about how much food will be homemade and how much will be store-bought. Buying store-bought salads may be a bit easier, since everything is already measured out. You can get bulk containers or mix and match sides to get the right amount. Picking up premade sides and desserts will also make your prep time more manageable, and you can get a wider array of options. When you pick up your sides and desserts, be sure to grab some snacks and finger food, like:
Not all BBQ parties are just a couple of hours long. Some end up being morning-until-night feasts. The length of your event will definitely factor into how much food you need to buy.
If your party goes for most of the day, snacks give your guests a boost before mealtime. Try not to put out too much, or your partygoers may fill up on finger food before the main event. While you’re at the store, pick up condiments, toppings and buns if you’re serving hot dogs, burgers or other sandwiches. Build an array of pairings for your food so everyone can have what they like.
While you should have variety in your condiments, snacks, sides and drinks, don’t go too niche. Popular soda flavors are household names for a reason — you don’t need a bottle of every kind ever made. Offer caffeine- or sugar-free options and have bottles of water on hand for those who don’t like soda, and that should cover it. With the proper planning and the perfect BBQ food quantity, every guest will leave happy — and full.
A great party starts with a prepared host. Food is one of the essential parts of a cookout, so do your best to make sure everything goes right. Remember to check or think about the following factors.
1. The weather: Check that it isn’t going to rain or be too hot on the day of your cookout. Have shade or another shelter over your grill if you still plan on using it even if the weather won’t cooperate. Have enough space inside for everyone or give them party tents and other coverage.
2. Your budget: Find a BBQ food calculator or break out a pen and paper for some party math. Hosting a party is fun, but the price can rack up if you aren’t careful. Determine a budget before you buy any food and decide what meats and sides are within that budget.
3. Prep time: If you can prepare anything in advance, do it. Marinate meat overnight, mix up your sauces that morning and cut up vegetables or fruit the day before. The more you can do before the party, the less stressed you’ll be.
4. Cooking time: Think about how long everything will take to cook and plan accordingly. Put any slow-grilled meats on at the start of the day, and throw burgers and hot dogs on the grill not long before it’s time to eat.
4. Cooking space: Consider the size of your grill and other cooking surfaces as you buy food for your party. Preparing some food beforehand will free up more space, so balance everything to help yourself the day of your party.
5. Serving space: Make sure you have enough tables to serve all your delicious food. Keep side dishes and drinks that need to be cool in a fridge or on ice, and use buffet-style chafing dishes for hot meals.
6. Seating and eating space: People don’t want to stand as they’re digging into a plate of ribs. Make sure you have enough tables and chairs for eating time or just hanging out and relaxing.
7. Wearing protective gear: Wear gloves when handling raw meat, heat-proof gloves when you’re at the grill and an apron to protect you from spills. Have extras in case any of your guests want to jump in and help.
8. Getting help: Ask guests if they mind bringing side dishes, drinks or desserts to make your job a little easier. Remember to coordinate with everyone, so you don’t have too much of one type of food.
9. Leftovers: Get containers to fill with leftovers and send home with your guests. You may still have food left after that, so be sure you have enough room in your fridge or freezer for extras.
10. Stuff to do: Don’t assume that everyone will want to just sit around and chat for hours. Have an activity or two ready to go. You can’t go wrong with a cornhole set or a few decks of cards. Your guests will appreciate being able to work up their appetites while you’re working the grill.
Planning your cookout food and setup will give you more time to spend with your friends and family. Everything will go smoothly, and you’ll feel less stressed once the day of the party rolls around. You’ll stay within your budget with proper planning, especially with the help of your guests.
You’ll be an even better BBQ food planner if you have some recipes in mind. At Grilla Grills, we’ve gathered some backyard BBQ menu ideas to make planning your party delicious and easy. Try some of these crowd-pleasing recipes.
1. Alabama chicken leg quarters: As a cheaper part of the chicken, legs are an excellent choice for a crowd. A creamy and tangy Alabama sauce tops perfectly grilled chicken leg quarters. Use the zingy sauce — which includes mayo, citrus, sugar, apple cider vinegar, horseradish and barbecue rub — on other chicken pieces if you use a whole bird.
2. Chicken bacon ranch kebabs: Crowd-pleasing flavors combine with a fun way to eat to make these skewers. Cut skinless chicken breast into chunks, then coat them in dry ranch seasoning. Skewer red onion, then the end of a piece of bacon. Add your seasoned chicken, then weave on the rest of the bacon, alternating between bacon and chicken. Top with another chunk of onion and dust on all-purpose rub before grilling.
3. Grilla grilled chicken wings: Barbecue sauce, rub and hot sauce aren’t the only stars of these wings. A coating of baking powder gives these crowd-pleasers a crispy texture. Coat with dry ingredients and grill, then toss in your sauces for a delicious bite with a kick.
4. Baby back throwdown: Give your ribs of choice a coating of all-purpose rub to start this delicious meal for a crowd. Spritz with apple juice every half hour, and slather them with a thick and bold sauce 10 minutes before serving time. Load up your pellet grill with competition-grade wood pellets for the ultimate smoky flavor.
5. No-flip burgers: Who doesn’t love a juicy burger? Make your grilling job more manageable with this simple recipe. Get some cold patties, season them with beef rub and put them on the grill. From there, you don’t even need to flip them. Add your cheese of choice about 10 minutes before cooking time is up. Serve with gold mustard barbecue sauce for an added kick of flavor that will leave guests wanting more.
6. Grilla pit beans: Get that smoky flavor everyone loves into your sides. Give baked beans a boost with red onion, bell pepper, garlic, brown sugar and mustard. Add even more barbecue flavor to this recipe with sauce and rub.
As you check out other backyard BBQ menu ideas for a crowd, consider everyone’s tastes. Don’t make food too spicy, and instead offer hotter sauces on the side for those who like a kick. Remember to have vegetarian and vegan options, as well as ones suitable for guests with dietary restrictions. Have plainer food for picky eaters of any age. Your guests will appreciate the flavorful meals and the care you put into each dish.
Grilla Grills has what you need to make your next cookout a hit. Feed a crowd mouthwatering meals and sides with an authentic smoked flavor. With our pellet grills, smokers, flavorful rubs and sauces, you’ll host a legendary cookout. Browse our selection of grills, or contact us at 616-392-7410 with any questions you have about our products. Get grilling with Grilla Grills for the perfect backyard BBQ!