From Friday's mailbag, we have a question from a culinary student named Tom, who writes:
"I'm preparing a lunch for employees at a plant to celebrate winning a safety award. I've been asked to serve hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad. I was looking to find out how much of each item should be served."
Cooking in quantity presents certain unique challenges. For one thing, obviously you need to get the right amount of ingredients, and sometimes it can be hard to visualize large quantities of food.
Also, when you're cooking a family dinner, you know, for instance, that your cousin Eddie always wants two burgers, so you'll want to make an extra one for him. But when you're cooking for a group of 100, you have to guess. You don't want to run out, but you don't want to have too much food leftover, either.
The potato salad equation is pretty simple. Figure 5 to 6 ounces (by volume) per person. So if you're serving 100 people, that's 500-600 ounces or about 4 to 4½ gallons of potato salad. Here's a handy cooking conversion tool that can help with making calculations like that. Also, here's a simple conversion chart that shows some basic culinary conversions.
Meats are a different matter, especially when you're serving more than one type, like burgers and hot dogs. This is where a little psychology comes in. Some people may only want a burger, while others may want a burger and a dog. Still others may want two hot dogs, and so on.
It's impossible to predict all the possible combinations, so we have to estimate.
In general, your best bet is to assume that each guest will, on average, want one burger and one hot dog, and then add twenty percent. So for 100 people that's 120 hot dogs and 120 burgers. If you're purchasing pre-made hamburger patties, that's all you need to know.
But if you're making the patties yourself (to save money, or because you love making burgers), you should figure four burgers per pound of meat. So for 120 burgers you'd need 30 pounds of ground beef.