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Whether it's real BBQ smoked for many hours, grilled meats, Lazy-Q precooked and finished on the grill, or pseudo-Q (BBQ-style food from oven or kitchen), the barbecue meal is a very popular choice. BBQ isn't cheap, and it isn't easy; hope this helps you plan.

This page is very much under construction. There are wonderful sites for this, check them! Here are the ones I use all the time:
Outdoor Barbecuing for Small and Large Groups
If you are going to cook brisket, you have to read Championship Brisket first. Pictures! Great instructions!
Scolboy's (The Praeg) Barbecue and Recipe Page
The National BBQ News
Recipe:JAR's Jamaican Jerk-style Ribs Lazy-Q, a fine sauce but especially a great method for getting lots of ribs to lots of people quickly. Method can be used with other marinades.
Recipe:Grilled or Barbecued Flank Steak

How much meat?

In the world of BBQ, meat is the star, which controls the cost of the meal. So the first menu decision is, what meats and what size servings?

For catering a dinner, allow one pound of cooked boneless ready to eat brisket or sausage, pulled pork or chicken, or 1 quart of chili, for each three people. For chicken, figure one whole chicken per three people. With meaty pork ribs, 2 people per pound is usual, while beef ribs or baby back ribs require 1- 1 1/2 pounds per person because of the very large proportion of bone. Remember, this estimates the total of all meats per person, not each meat.

  • At a mixed entree BBQ when people can choose what they want and have seconds, many people take "some of each", so I increase the total about 10% for each additional entree. If you have 3 different meats, you may need 1/4 more than with a single meat.
  • At a reception or light meal, decrease the amounts above about 25%, unless it is teenagers.
  • People always take more when they serve themselves, you have to add about another 10%.
  • If you need to control costs, someone should portion and serve the meats.
  • If the meat budget is strained, select MORE and HEAVIER side dishes. Potato salad PLUS ranch beans or baked beans; cole slaw or three bean salad instead of tossed salad; really good garlic bread or rolls instead of sliced bread, and desserts all will cut down on the meat. Set up the service so people fill their plates with the sides before they get to the meats.

Calculating Amounts of Entrees with Mixed Meats

Here is a sample calculation: 175 people, mixed BBQ
baby back ribs, smoked sausage and chicken

  • First, figure the total number of entree servings you need, adding in any allowances. In this case, add extra for multiple entrees= 10% extra.
    You want 175 entrees plus another 10% = 193 "entree units".
  • Decide on a possible distribution of the choices- visualize the plate. In this case, I see some ribs, a piece of chicken and a few good bites of sausage.
  • Make the first guess: Estimate your totals and the amount you might need to purchase with this idea.
    How manyunitsof whatallows per personnumber of entree unitsI would purchase
    29wholechickensallows 1-2 pieces87about 90 pounds
    85pounds cookedbaby back ribsallows 3-4 ribs85about 115 pounds raw
    20pounds cookedsmoked sausage allows 2 ounces cooked60about 25 pounds
  • Adjust your first estimate for quantities and price. Check whether you have enough. The total number of "entree units" is 87 + 85 + 60 = 232, which looks a little high- about 10%. So I might cut back about 10% on each item. You can also check whether you are within budget when deciding what to add or cut. For a fund raiser, I might adjust the extra by reducing the most expensive item, the ribs. By cutting back to 65 pounds cooked= 95 pounds raw and allow 2-3 ribs per person instead of 3-4.
  • Recalculate to make sure you have enough entree servings for your crowd.
  • Write down you menu and prepare you shopping list.

The portion quantities above are usually sufficient amounts for mixed groups. If your group consists of heavy eaters or teens or food is to be set out all day for munching, you might consider using a larger amount as a serving, such as 1/2 pound brisket, per person.

How much potato salad? Beans? Rice? Slaw?

For side dishes you can figure a total of 1 gallon per 10 people. Again, this is for total amounts of side dishes, not for each side dish. 100 people need 4 to 4 1/2 gallons potato salad to allow plenty for everyone. As I discussed before, more and heavier side dishes, hearty appetizers and other extras do reduce the amount of meat used, while liquor or self service increases it.

Condiments such as pickles, onions, sauce, jalapenos, and bread are extras. Appetizers and desserts are extras.

Ellen's Kitchen Barbecue Sides
ItemNumber of Servings*
Potato Salad 4-1/2 quarts 2-1/2 gallons 4-1/2 gallons
Cole Slaw 3-1/2 quarts 1 3/4 gallons 3-1/4 gallons
Scalloped Potatoes, side 1, 12x20x4 pan
3, 9x13x2 1/2 pan
2, 12x20x4 pans
5, 9x13x2 1/2 pan
4, 12x20x4 pans
10, 9x13x2 1/2 pan
Spaghetti, plain, side1-1/4 gallons 2-1/2 gallons5 gallons
Baked Beans 3 1/2 quarts 1-1/2 gallons 3 gallons
Jello Salad 3/4 gallon 1-1/2 gallons 2-1/2 gallons
*Remember, it takes about 120 servings to serve 100 people and for self or buffet service or for all men, you need to add an additional 10%.
For teens only, add 1/3 more.

Brisket notes:

Brisket can be a great, inexpensive BBQ choice, but requires skill and practice in the smoker. It needs LOW SLOW (1-2 hours per pound) cooking to emerge tender and juicy from the heat.
Whole brisket is a fatty meat, figure no more than two servings per raw pound. Success begins at the meat counter; you want a chunky, well marbled brisket with an even top layer of fat and weight of 9-12 pounds.
Before you oven roast/ bake, do some fat trimming, then season or marinate. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking.
For cooking time, you estimate about 1 hour per pound of the largest piece in the oven, 1 to 2 hours in the smoker. The more fat in the meat, the faster it cooks. If you are cooking more than 2 briskets at the same time, the cooking time will increase.
Use a slow cooking method to reduce shrinkage, check internal temp of the thickest part of the largest piece with a thermometer starting at 3/4 the way through your estimated time. For example, the pieces are 9-12 pounds, plan on up to 12 hours, in the oven. Cooked in the smoker at 180-200 degrees it will be tender but still juicy.
In the oven, start in a preheated oven 1 hour at 300 and turn down the oven to 180-200 for the rest of the cooking. For a true roasted flavor set the brisket on racks above the pans, and start thinking about what you will do with the wonderful juices.
When done (check with a meat thermometer), remove from oven and let cool AT LEAST 30 minutes before slicing to reduce juice loss. You can layer into pans, add skimmed juices or sauce, refrigerate, then reheat, but it is very wonderful served soon after prep.

Note about pork and pork shoulder

Shoulder is a great meat to use for pulled pork, it is juicier and more flavorful than pork loin. Expert pork cooks remind that meat roasted for pulled pork needs to reach an internal temp of 180, and that it often hits a plateau at 165 and take SEVERAL extra hours to reach 180, above the time you would expect.

In addition, if made ahead and then stored in the sauce (I use zipper freezer bags, even in the refrigerator), the meat absorbs some of the sauce adding flavor and bulking it up a little.


I searched out the jerk ribs recipe below, and I like it a lot. You start at least the day before. The ribs can be refrigerated right after parboiling, for up to three days. Thanks to JAR for the hard work, and here is the recipe, with my comments in italics. Allow 1 pound of baby back ribs per person, plus 1 gallon of assorted side dishes for each 10 persons. This marinade also works with chicken and grilled tofu, but I add a few tablespoons of sugar to the mix.

Remember, DO NOT try to save and reuse marinades that have been on meats! Ellen

JAR's Race Day Ribs- Jamaican Jerk Style

One batch of this recipe is enough to marinate 10 to 12 pounds of ribs.

"This is a recipe for Jamaican Jerk ribs that I've been making for a few years. Traditionally I do this up on the Sunday before Memorial day (500 Mile Race Day here in Indy), 4th of July, Labor Day, and also sometimes on a portable gas grill at baseball game tailgate parties. Purists be forewarned: this is a marinate/parboil/quick-grill recipe. The idea is to minimize the amount of work that has to be done at the cooking site in order to serve a lot of tasty ribs to a large number of people fairly quickly.
Ellen's note: this multi-step cooking is also how to get the tenderest, juiciest, SAFEST well-cooked BBQ ribs with a split cooking time.

"The last time I did these for a race day party I did two batches each of six slabs of baby-backs (about 2 lbs. per slab). I marinate and parboil each batch of six slabs in its own covered 8 quart enameled steel roasting pot/pan. Use glass or enamel or stainless steel. DO NOT use aluminum or cast iron. I have noticed that baby-backs from the grocery store tend to weigh less per slab and have a lot more fat on them than the ones I get from my butcher. Fatty ribs cook faster and have less meat per pound. Some leanness is desirable, since this cooking method will get the ribs literally falling-off-the-bone done.

Ranges and substitution recommendations within parentheses represent variations I have tried before. I'm not real picky about measurements when I make this, and I substitute according to what I have at hand. If you like it hot, use the larger quantities of the dried peppers. If you don't, use the lesser amount of caliente. If you can't get shallots or scallions, use more onion. There really isn't any acceptable substitute for allspice and fresh grated ginger root. Background:

This recipe was born when I tired of using bottled Jerk marinades, which were becoming a significant expense for the quantities I was getting involved with as well. So I decided to try out the Frug's Jamaican Jerk Pork marinade recipe. After a summer of experimentation it had evolved into this. I do not claim this is authentic Jamaican. I've had many people tell me that it is quite good and I get lots of requests for the recipe.

1 large onion, chopped (or 3 medium onions - about 2 cups)
6 shallots, chopped (or another medium onion)
6 scallions (green onions), chopped
6 cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped
5 TBS fresh ginger root, grated or chopped
4 TBS freshly ground whole Jamaican allspice
1.5 tsp nutmeg
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 habenero peppers OR substitute 3 to 5 TBS caliente sauce
4 or 5 chiles pequin, dried OR (minced jalapeno) for all dried peppers)
2 cups boiling water for the pepper prep
2 TBS peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 pint lime juice (I like Nellie and Joe's Key Lime juice)

For parboiling:
2 12 oz. bottles of beer

For grilling:
Your "tools of the trade" (tongs, meat fork, basting brush)
Your favorite BBQ sauce to baste(optional, or use marinade)
More beer

Please be careful when handling hot peppers. You may wish to use latex kitchen gloves. You should not touch your eyes or any sensitive area after handling hot peppers without very thoroughly washing your hands first. Believe me, I learned this the hard way!
To prepare the dried peppers, boil 2 cups of water. Turn off heat and steep the peppers 10 minutes in the hot water. Stem, seed, and chop the peppers finely.
Unwrap the ribs and use a heavy kitchen knife or cleaver to chop each slab in half about in the middle (6-7 ribs down). Or if you like, you can have your butcher do this for you.
Put all marinade ingredients except beer in food processor or blender and blend or process until thoroughly mixed and chopped. It doesn't have to be pureed -- I prefer it a bit on the chunky side. Place a layer half-slabs into the pot. Pour on some marinade, then poke with a fork, turn, and rub the marinade well into the meat. If you made it hot hot, wear the gloves, watch the eyes, etc. Repeat layers for the remaining meat and marinade. Pour any remaining marinade over the top. Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

In the morning, preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Pour the beers slowly down the side of the pot. Cover and cook 2 hours. If doing more than 2 pans, increase temp by 15 degrees and cooking time by about 1/2 hour for each additional pan. Baste occasionally to keep ribs on top moist. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about a half an hour.

For transport hot to the grilling site: You can preheat ice chests with hot water, remove slabs from the pot and transfer to a preheated container, or put each covered pot in a plastic garbage bag lined with the Sunday paper to prevent grease and marinade from sloshing out.

To finish, grill about five minutes per side or more over low heat, basting with your favorite BBQ sauce or the marinade. IMPORTANT! Grill within 2 hours or removal from oven for food safety's sake. If not, refrigerate immediately on removal from the pot and plan to grill 10-15 minutes per side, still over low grill heat.

Now pour yourself a beer, chomp into a slab, and raise a toast to the pig...



Makes 8 servings, enough for 6 people
2 (1-1/2 lb) flank steaks, preferably prime
6 large garlic cloves, sliced into thin slivers
1/4 cup Dijon Mustard
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Make small slits over surfaces of both steaks with sharp paring knife and insert garlic slivers OR use garlic puree and rub all over the steaks..
Combine mustard, soy sauce and thyme in small bowl and mix well. Spread steaks generously on all sides with mixture. Place steaks in glass or plastic pan and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, prepare grill. When coals are medium hot, grill steaks about 5 minutes per side until pink inside. Make slit in center of steaks to check degree of doneness. Cooking time will vary depending on type of grill used and intensity of heat. Steaks also can be oven-broiled 4 to 5 inches from heat 5 to 6 minutes per side approximately, turn only once.
To serve: Cut steaks against grain into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange slices of steak on serving platter and garnish with thyme.


Carolina Pulled Pork

As for pulled pork, here is a recipe for 8 pounds from a Carolina cook that is about as good as you can find. 2 pork butts, 3 to 4 pounds each, untrimmed (can sub shoulders). About 20 great sandwiches. Multiply as needed for your crowd.

1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup molasses
1 head garlic, broken into unpeeled cloves
2 Tb. whole cumin seeds
3 Tb. whole coriander seeds
1 Tb. whole black peppercorns
8 small dried red chiles
2 bay leaves
3 Tb. tomato paste
3 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes, with juice
1 quart distilled white vinegar
4 cups water
1/4 cup salt

Combine the honey, molasses, garlic, cumin, coriander, peppercorns, chiles and bay leaves in a large stockpot, over medium-low heat. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The garlic will darken, and the mixture will be very thick and fragrant. Add the tomato paste and tomatoes; cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the vinegar, water and salt. The sauce should be thin. Simmer, uncovered, for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Set aside half the sauce for marinating the pork. Let the remaining sauce cool and fish out any large pieces of garlic peel. Puree the remaining sauce in a blender (some spices will remain whole). The sauce should be rather watery and look like a brothy tomato soup.

One or two days before cooking (much preferably two), put the pork in a container just large enough to hold it and deep enough for the reserved sauce to cover it. Cover the container and refrigerate, turning the pork half-way through the marinating period.

At this point, you're finally ready to cook the pork. I have tried this in a number of methods and variations, but have settled on a two-step process that works great. I cook half-way in the oven (before basting is necessary and saving propane) and half-way on a grill using indirect heat (making it easier to baste and adding the barbecue flavor you need). The formula is 2 hours per pound (or cooked to an internal temperature between 150 to 160 degrees).

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Put the pork, fat side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Leave in oven three hours (for six pounds) or four hours (for eight pounds). Remove to pre-heated grill, but with low, indirect heat (should be about the same 200 degrees as your oven). Baste with the pureed sauce every 30 minutes, until done, turning once (this second half of cooking will take as long as the first, if your grill is correctly regulated). Let the pork cool.

Chop and shred the pork. You can either slice it or pull it apart with your fingers (thus the name, "pulled pork"). For slicing, cut the pork across the grain, in half-inch slices. For pulling, start pulling at the meat with a fork, then attack with your fingers. Discard any unrendered fat.

With a large knife, roughly chop the pork coarse. Put the chopped pork in a large bowl with some more of the pureed sauce; the amount is up to you (I'd go a little at a time, and test along the way). Serve the pork warm (no problem with a microwave; it's plenty juicy -- if you cooked it right) with a little more sauce on the side, for your bolder eaters.

It's a lot of work and that's why I usually go 8 pounds, so I can freeze half and eat it a few months from now. I figure if I'm going to this much trouble, I might as well make as much as the sauce can handle (8 pounds being the top end). Enjoy and tell any friends in Asheville or Memphis that you've got 'em beat.

1 cup cider vinegar
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper

And...Here's a great spicy chili rub to use before cooking...

1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon white pepper


Ellen's notes: You can skip the red chilis or reduce amounts to taste. Yes, you can cook the pork in the oven the whole time- just double the time- not quite as perfect, but still very good. Yes, you can cook the pork ahead and freeze it. If I were doing this, I might make up a fresh batch of sauce for the side at the time of serving... By the way, a vinegar slaw is the classic side dish for the pork. It is called Lexington slaw.

Shoulder is a great meat to use for pulled pork, it is juicier and more flavorful than pork loin. Expert pork cooks remind that meat roasted for pulled pork needs to reach an internal temp of 180, and that it often hits a plateau at 165 and take SEVERAL extra hours to reach 180, above the time you would expect.

In addition, if made ahead and then stored in the sauce (I use zipper freezer bags, even in the refrigerator), the meat absorbs some of the sauce adding flavor and bulking it up a little.