Looking to impress your guests with a delicious pile of smoked pulled pork at your next barbecue? It’s a tempting notion. In addition to being a great source of protein, pulled pork is flavorful, versatile, and offers great bang for your buck.
Some home chefs balk at the idea of serving pulled pork to a crowd because it’s too much work to estimate the correct number of portions. While this step does a bit more effort than it does with burgers and hot dogs, there’s a simple equation that can eliminate the guesswork. If you want to know just how much pulled pork per person you should serve, you’ve come to the right place.
About Pulled Pork
Pulled pork is typically made using the top half of the pork shoulder, also known as Boston butt. When you buy a pork shoulder roast at the supermarket, it usually weighs between 4-8 pounds, depending on the butcher.
The lower half of the pork shoulder is called the picnic shoulder or picnic ham. It’s possible to buy both halves together, in which case they’ll probably be labeled a whole shoulder. However, the picnic shoulder contains more bone than the Boston butt, making it more difficult to calculate the yield (see How To Calculate, below).
Although the meat comes from a region that sees a great deal of action, it’s unbelievably tender when you use the low-and-slow method. It’s incredibly flavorful and juicy, too, thanks to the high fat content.
Tips on Buying Pork for the Smoker
Whenever possible, try to stay away from big-box supermarkets. Pork that’s been bred for industrial purposes will have less fat—and, consequently, less flavor—than it should. Check with your local butcher to make sure that the pork you’re buying has been humanely raised.
If you’re as obsessed with grilling as we are, you’re probably familiar with the term heritage breed. When it comes to pork, there are a few notable examples: Berkshire or kurobuta (Japanese for “black pig”), which is well-marbled and incredibly rich; Red Wattle, from the South Pacific, with a robust, almost beefy flavor; and Tamworth, which is naturally leaner than its brethren and yields amazing bacon.
You don’t need to buy heritage pork in order to get great results with your smoker, but if you can get your hands on some, we would recommend trying it at least once. You’re bound to notice the difference in flavor and quality. To learn more about heritage breed pork and how it’s raised, take a look at this video.
How Much Pulled Pork Per Person?
In general, you should plan to have about 1/3 pound of pulled pork per person.
Obviously, this is the short answer. When you’re dealing with a large, fatty cut like pork shoulder, you can’t just buy two pounds of meat for six people and call it a day—that’s not how it works.
Additionally, you’ll have to take a number of outside factors into account, some of which may not occur to you until you’re ready to serve. To help you avoid the pitfalls of coming up short, we’ve listed these in Other Considerations, below.
How To Calculate
If you’re using 1/3 pound per person as a rule of thumb—which most experts recommend—remember that the cooked pork will only weigh about half as much as the raw pork shoulder. That’s because most of the moisture will evaporate away during cooking. So, if you buy a pork shoulder that weighs 6 pounds, you can expect it to yield about 3 pounds of smoked pulled pork.
To make it simpler, here’s the principle broken down into a basic formula:
(Guests x (1/3)) X 2 = Amount (in pounds) of Raw Pork Needed
Let’s say you’re expecting about 18 people for your next cookout. When you divide the number 18 into thirds, you get 6. That’s the amount of pulled pork you’ll want to end up with, so multiply this number by 2. Using this formula, you should purchase about 12 pounds of raw boneless pork shoulder.
18 guests x 1/3 = 6 pounds x 2 = 12 pounds of raw pork
While 1/3 pound per person is a good yardstick to use, you might be able to make additional adjustments based on the criteria we’ve outlined below.
1. Time of Event
You can get away with serving smaller portions at lunchtime. If your event is early in the day, consider dropping the per-person amount to 1/4 pound versus 1/3 pound.
People will usually eat more at a formal sit-down event than they would at a casual backyard gathering. For the latter, you can plan on scaling back the portions. When guests are milling about in an active environment, they’re less likely to focus on the food.
3. The Rest of the Menu
We know the pulled pork is probably your star attraction, but what else are you planning to serve? Will you have burgers or hot dogs to supplement the main dish? What about the side dishes?
If you’re just putting out a platter of pulled pork with buns (see below) and a few bowls of potato chips on the side, you should plan on serving more meat per person. Conversely, if you have grilled sausages, corn bread, baked beans, and cole slaw to round out the meal, you can afford to scale back the portions.
4. Bun Size
You don’t have to serve your pulled pork with buns, but if you do, think about how their size will affect your portions. Regular hamburger buns will hold about 5 ounces (or one serving), but if you use slider buns or larger bulkie rolls, you may have to adjust your calculations. Also remember that the buns will fill your guests up faster, meaning that they might not return to the table for seconds.
5. Age of the Guests
When the guest list includes a bunch of children under the age of 10, you’re bound to wind up with plenty of leftovers if you use the 1/3-pound-per-person formula. In these situations, we would recommend planning on just 1/4 pound per child.
Because pulled pork is such a versatile and delightful ingredient, we tend to go with the “more is more” philosophy. The pork will store and reheat easily, and can be used in a host of tempting dishes long after the party is over. Better yet, Boston butt is an affordable cut of meat, so shelling out for an extra pound or two will only cost a few dollars more. It’s better to have too much than not enough.
How To Store Leftover Pulled Pork
You can use any airtight container to store your leftovers, assuming the lid is well-sealed. A plastic freezer bag will also work.
First of all, make sure to salvage as many of the juices as possible. The moister the pork is, the easier it will be to reheat.
Next, seal your container tightly and place it in the refrigerator or freezer. Refrigerated pulled pork should be consumed within 48 hours. If you opt to freeze the pork, it should be defrosted and consumed within three months.
Ideas for Leftovers
- Have a supply of zip-top bags on hand and allow the guests to take home a few servings apiece when they leave.
- Mix with your favorite barbecue sauce and serve on bulkie rolls topped with cole slaw and crispy fried onions.
- Make pulled pork tacos with corn tortillas, diced onions, cilantro, tomatillo salsa, and a squeeze of lime.
How Much Pulled Pork Per Person: The Bottom Line
So, while we would recommend allowing for 1/3 pound of pulled pork per person, there are exceptions to every rule. Our advice is to use this number as a guideline, and to always buy a serving or two more than you think you’ll need.
How much pulled pork for 20 people?
20 guests x 1/3 = 6.66 pounds x 2 ≈ 13.5 pounds of raw pork
How much pulled pork for 30 people?
30 guests x 1/3 = 10 pounds x 2 = 20 pounds of raw pork
How much pulled pork for 50 people?
50 guests x 1/3 = 16.66 pounds x 2 ≈ 33.5 pounds of raw pork
How much pulled pork for 8 adults?
8 guests x 1/3 = 2.66 pounds x 2 ≈ 5.5 pounds of raw pork
How much pulled pork for 12 adults?
12 guests x 1/3 = 4 pounds x 2 = 8 pounds of raw pork