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How many roast chickens for 15 people?

alejandraordersdessert May 4, 2008 12:48 PM


I'm having a dinner party for 15 and am planning on serving roast chicken as one of the courses. It's a tuscan theme and I will be starting with some light antipasti followed by the first course of risotto and gnudi. The chicken will be the main course along with some roast vegetables as a side and followed by fruit/cheese then dessert. I'm trying to determine how many pounds of chicken I will need. Given the amount of courses, the portions won't have to be very large. Any suggestions on how much chicken I will need? I'm assuming 2 birds of about 5-6 lbs each. Does that sound about right?


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  1. MMRuth May 4, 2008 01:19 PM

    I'm not sure 2 birds is enough, even with your other courses and are you sure you have room in your oven for two at the same time? Much as I love roast chicken, I've never made it for a crowd - I'd rather doing a chicken dish that is sauted or braised, that I can make ahead of time and reheat.

    1. m
      mpalmer6c May 4, 2008 01:39 PM

      According to this site, 10-12 pounds should do it:


      1. m
        MakingSense May 4, 2008 01:46 PM

        Oh, it's hard enough serving roast chicken for a family with everybody fighting over the crispy skin and the drumsticks!!! That will be a bigger problem with 15 dinner guests, plus you've got the added headache of carving and presenting the chickens nicely, too.

        I think I'd work backwards from presentation. Think of the chicken as pieces.
        Buy 15 breasts, 30 thighs and 20 drumsticks. Bake or braise the chicken. Maybe a cacciatore. That's more than you need but it allows people to select one or two to three small pieces, or one larger piece, or however they wish to combine it.
        You'll have leftovers, but who minds leftover cold chicken?

        When I do "rustic" parties, I always like to have the appearance of "plenty" so I plan one main dish or side that is good as leftovers and make a lot more than than I know I'll need. There's something about one large heaping platter that just says hospitality.
        I've done an entire flat of strawberries for 8 people and then made jam the next day. It looked great for the dinner party and nothing went to waste.

        3 Replies
        1. re: MakingSense
          rabaja May 4, 2008 02:27 PM

          I really think that's WAY too much chicken, 15 breast?? No way, even if you mean split breasts, with all the other courses that's too much.
          I think the OP is pretty close with 2, 6lb birds, after all this is an Italian style dinner, with multiple courses including a starch course (ie, filling) and then followed by cheese and dessert.
          Assuming your guests are not heathens and you are comfortable cutting up the chickens, I say go for two, three if you're worried.
          Slice the breasts in half for presentation, they'll go further, and save the backs for me!
          Hats off to you for choosing roast chicken, clearly some wouldn't because of space, etc, but surely you've thought of that.

          1. re: rabaja
            MMRuth May 4, 2008 02:32 PM

            Yes, I do think Making Sense's numbers are a bit high - that's an awful lot of chicken. My worry with two chickens though is the cutting it up to get enough chicken for 15 people, of the kind of chicken they like - dark vs. white meat.

          2. re: MakingSense
            JeetJet May 4, 2008 07:08 PM

            You have the perfect name -- "Makingsense." "...work backwards from presentation. Think of the chicken as pieces." The only change I would make is I think in terms of half a chicken per person. Here I would be using at LEAST 8 whole small, or medium size, chickens so that each guest has a half-chicken. In fact, that is how I do it on the grill. Some people take an entire half while others take white or dark meat only and somehow it all works out allowing seconds for still others. I know the OP is a great cook because of the number of guest invited -- confident!. That means all the jucy chicken will be eaten. Therefore 8 to 10 chickens (=16 to 20 half-chickens) is not too much food for 15 hungry people. When the food is good the dinner can only be made bad by not having enough of it. Maybe 10 whole chickens or at least a few extra breast.

          3. alanbarnes May 4, 2008 02:28 PM

            As a rule of thumb, you should count on one to one-and-one-half pounds of whole poultry per diner. So unless you can find a couple of 8-pound chickens (capons, maybe?) you're probably better off roasting three birds. And IMHO it's always better to have lots of leftovers (just finished a chicken salad sandwich a couple of minutes ago) than to feel bad because there wasn't enough food on the table.

            1. m
              moh May 4, 2008 03:03 PM

              I suspect you could get away with 2 chickens. When I initially read your post, I thought gosh, at least 3 chickens. But then I remembered - oh yeah, I always cook too much food. So 2 is probably ok.

              But MMRuth's concern about having enough white/dark meat to go around depending on preferences is a reasonable one. If you know you have an odd crowd, and everyone is on a diet requiring white meat only, well, then 3 would be safer.

              I find you can roast 2 chickens much more easily than 3 chickens in a standard oven. So from a practical point of view, it would be easier if you can get away with 2 birds. Given that you are having a lot of courses, including risotto/gnudi and a cheese course, I totally think you could get away with 2 birds. I don't think anyone will go away hungry! But if the roast chicken is meant to be the showcase dish, then you'd be safer to do 3. I personally love having tonnes of leftovers, especially a nice roast chicken...

              1. alejandraordersdessert May 4, 2008 03:55 PM

                You've all been wonderfully helpful! I think I'll try and find two of the largest roasters I can find (about 6lbs). My oven is huge so fitting them won't be a concern. If anything, I'll make an extra side and with all the other courses there should definitely be enough food. Thank you all again!

                1 Reply
                1. re: alejandraordersdessert
                  Jennalynn May 4, 2008 06:18 PM

                  I think you should go with three smaller birds. The problem isn't the poundage, it's what makes up the poundage.

                  If the breast is gigantic on those two birds, you'll still only have 4 breasts. Will you cut them in half?

                  On two birds you only get 12 pieces that make a meal... 4 breasts, 4 thighs, 4 drumsticks.

                  Make three smaller birds. (For my house I would make 4 birds minimum... but that's me)

                2. jfood May 4, 2008 04:18 PM

                  Jfood was leaning toward 3.5-4 pound birds when he read the OP. Then he assumed that each bird would have the following pieces - four breast pieces (each breast half cut in 2), two thigh pieces, two legs and two wings.

                  So jfood was thinking of 4 * 3.5-4 pound birds for the 15 people. And at casa jfood there would be 5 birds made just in case..

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: jfood
                    shallots May 4, 2008 06:12 PM

                    I think my friends would find dinner at jfood's to be what they'd expect.
                    Two roasters will feed six, when five of them are men who work hard. This from my experiences feeding friends who were Katrina refugees.
                    But, you know your friends.
                    Do you plan to carve the chicken (as if they were small turkeys)? Do you plan to stuff them?
                    I have rigged up a rack that can be used in the oven so that four birds fit on a large metal tray , neck ends all facing downwards.

                    1. re: jfood
                      rumgum May 4, 2008 08:33 PM

                      I have to agree with jfood's plan. I was thinking more on the lines of piece(s) per guest.

                      1. re: jfood
                        Felixnot May 5, 2008 05:32 AM

                        Totally agree with 4, 4 pound birds. You can take out the back, roast them butterflied and then serve them in quarters. Unless you are serving at room temperature, carving a couple of large birds is going to screw up service.

                      2. v
                        valerie May 4, 2008 06:54 PM

                        Agree with all who said you need more than 2 chickens. No matter how big the chickens are, you still only have 16 pieces (and in my house I never serve the wings, so that would be 12 pieces). 16 pieces of chicken for 15 people? Regardless of how many other courses and sides, I would still have at least 2 pieces per person available (which is basically 4 chickens), and then I usually buy a few extra breasts separately since white meat seems to go fast. (Yes, it sounds like a lot, but I am Jewish and we tend to overdo it with the food.)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: valerie
                          revsharkie May 4, 2008 07:15 PM

                          I'm not Jewish, but I am my grandmother's granddaughter, and my first thought was four or five chickens. So you have leftovers. I'd imagine they can be dispatched in some useful way the next day--and that means you don't have to come up with a whole new meal the day after a dinner party.

                        2. alanbarnes May 4, 2008 07:52 PM

                          Wow. Maybe it's just me, but I can't imagine serving a 6-pound roast chicken cut into its constituent pieces. Wings and drumsticks, sure. But dropping a half-breast from a bird that size onto somebody's plate brings to mind the opening scene of the Flintstones, where the rack of brontosaurus ribs at the drive-thru tipped over Fred's car.

                          If you're planning to serve chicken pieces, you'll need a lot more (presumably smaller) chickens. But if the birds are going to get the full Thanksgiving turkey treatment, with the breasts and thighs sliced and served sans bone, three big 'uns should be more than enough. And if your guests aren't big eaters, you can probably get by with two.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: alanbarnes
                            alejandraordersdessert May 4, 2008 08:32 PM

                            See Alan this is more what I had in mind. I'll be stuffing the birds and carving "thanksgiving turkey" style as opposed to hacking it into full pieces. My friends aren't all huge eaters. They love food, but are very moderate about it. I feel like they would take a slice or two of the chicken--maybe two or three of the guys would take more, but two of the girls barely eat (one is a model). I think I might see how big the birds are and decide at the store if I need the third. Perhaps I'll pick up an extra breast

                            1. re: alejandraordersdessert
                              alanbarnes May 5, 2008 10:09 AM

                              Maybe it's me, but it just seems more "special" when the bird is carved.

                              1. re: alanbarnes
                                MakingSense May 5, 2008 12:47 PM

                                That's true, Alan, for a lovely dinner for a few people when you can present a beautifully finished bird, but when you have to deal with the logistics of carving 3, 4 or more birds for lurking hungry guests, it may be wiser to shift gears. Even the old T'giving feast is complicated when you're thinking about nice presentation of carved up pieces of meat.

                                That's why I suggested chicken parts with enough extras to give a selection of white/dark meat and Nyleve suggested Cornish hen halves.
                                Tidy portion control and ease of serving. No last minute carving or mess in the kitchen.
                                Plus the platters look nice and they're easy to garnish well.

                                1. re: MakingSense
                                  alanbarnes May 5, 2008 03:14 PM

                                  You're probably already aware of it, but the "butcher's method" was a revelation for me. It allows carving to be done in the kitchen (where you can use your hands and don't have to worry about spattering your guests with chicken fat), takes about a minute per bird, and allows attractive presentation:


                              2. re: alejandraordersdessert
                                Miss Needle May 5, 2008 10:27 AM

                                That may work for pieces like the breast, but a drumstick is a drumstick whether it comes from a 3 lb chicken or a 6 lb one. People normally don't serve 1/2 a drumstick or 1/2 a thigh.

                                In spite of your friends being smaller eaters, I really do think you should have a minimum of three birds (unless you know that most of them are white meat eaters and will be happy that a slice or two of breast). There are many uses for the leftovers.

                            2. NYchowcook May 5, 2008 04:37 AM

                              That's alot of chickens to stuff and put in the oven at one time! Why swim upstream?

                              You have a crowd, so have you thought about a turkey -- or a roast pork or porchetta to go w/ the Tuscan theme?

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: NYchowcook
                                MMRuth May 5, 2008 04:41 AM

                                If the OP is interested in a porchetta recipe, I have a great Batali one that I've posted and would be happy to find. It has the added benefit of being made ahead and served at room temp, which I find helpful for large dinner parties.

                                1. re: MMRuth
                                  NYchowcook May 5, 2008 04:54 AM

                                  from Molto Italiano? Looks great!

                                  1. re: NYchowcook
                                    MMRuth May 5, 2008 05:07 AM

                                    No - it's actually from the book by Bastanich about Italian Wines -


                                2. re: NYchowcook
                                  greedygirl May 5, 2008 05:06 AM

                                  I was thinking porchetta too - it's definitely Tuscan, and a bit more special, somehow, than roast chicken.

                                  If you do want to do poultry, how about a couple of capons?

                                  1. re: NYchowcook
                                    alejandraordersdessert May 5, 2008 11:18 AM

                                    I love the porchetta idea, but my last dinner party was a cuban theme and I served a roast pork shoulder. Also I have 1 non-pork eating jewish friend attending this time so I want to do something he can eat. I might try either the turkey or the game hen, but as I (weirdly) don't like hens am not sure... Ah so many ideas!! ;)

                                  2. n
                                    Nyleve May 5, 2008 07:27 AM

                                    Another suggestion: cornish hens. If there are multiple courses, I find that half a cornish hen is a good serving per person. You could therefore roast, say, 8 to 10 cornish hens (halved before roasting). That way each person gets a little of everything. Whenever I make cornish hens people get all impressed - even though it's really nothing fancy. It just looks good and is very easy to serve.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Nyleve
                                      Diane in Bexley May 5, 2008 10:36 AM

                                      Nyleve, I am with you if that is my menu. Have suggested in several posts previously that cornish hens are perfect party fare as they feature both light & dark meat, present on platter very attractively, take short time to roast and everyone can be happy with ratio of skin to meat.

                                      1. re: Nyleve
                                        jfood May 5, 2008 10:39 AM

                                        Like Diane, Jfood has recommended CH's in the past. They can be prepped and ready on two rimmed baking sheets and into the oven for 25 minutes. In this case jfood would have made 10 CH's because there are always a few people who ask for a second.

                                        1. re: jfood
                                          Nyleve May 5, 2008 01:34 PM

                                          Yeah - if it were my house, I'd do 10 cornish hens. Most people won't ask for a second half, but there's always one or two in every crowd.

                                      2. w
                                        willg May 5, 2008 11:26 AM

                                        I think that the answer is at least four chickens. Four chickens allows the equivalent of one piece of dark meat per person (8 legs and 8 thighs) and enough white meat. Generally, I find that one 4.5 lb. bird is just (barely) enough for four adults.

                                        I also think that the quality of the birds will make a difference. Organic and kosher birds are tastier (to me at least) than basic supermarket birds, but they also seem to disappear from the table at a more rapid rate.

                                        We recently had an organic VT raised bird that we bought at Lionettes in the South End. The price was high, but I cannot remember a tastier chicken.

                                        1. sarah galvin May 5, 2008 11:39 AM

                                          I would do 3-4 chickens. 3 would be a nice presentation, I like odd numbers. Why don't you try Chicken Cooked Under a Brick? Or Il Galletto al Mattone in Italian. It is in Mario Batali's Italian Grill. Sounds delicious. It's a barbecue recipe with the chicken flattened for grilling.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: sarah galvin
                                            alejandraordersdessert May 5, 2008 12:21 PM

                                            I like the under a brick style, but I won't be grilling. If I were to do three chickens (about 4.5 lbs each), how long would I roast for and at what temp?

                                            1. re: alejandraordersdessert
                                              NYchowcook May 5, 2008 03:08 PM

                                              I like to start roasting chickens at 450 degrees for 25 minutes and then lower temp to 300-350, cooking for a total of 1-1/2 hrs. You have to test though for doneness -- either temp of 165-175 for dark meat; 149-152 white meat, or wiggling a leg and/or sticking a knife in the leg joint to see if "the juices run clear" though I don't really know what that means.

                                              Maybe you already know this, but it's a good idea to bring chicken (and all meat) up to near room temp before roasting by taking out of refrigerator about an hour before cooking. Salting the birds with kosher salt when you take them out of the refrigerator is highly recommended. Even more highly recommended is buying some happy natural, running in the yard, chickens -- the meat is the tastiest and I find the natural birds to be more forgiving if overcooked a bit.
                                              Why not capons -- then you can carve as you seem to want, and need only cook 2?

                                          2. chef chicklet May 5, 2008 01:43 PM

                                            I always cook too much food, so I would cook 5 or 6 birds of small weight, not going with weight but thinking in pieces and the preferred pieces. I would want all to have the cut or meat of their choice and to be able to have more than one serving if they wanted. Roast chicken is just delicious! I like the tenderness of the small chickens and they seem to cook a little faster. That's my vote!
                                            Thanks for the great idea, I'm having my own little dinner party dilema at the moment and I'm getting great input here!!!

                                            1. s
                                              Sherri May 5, 2008 03:35 PM

                                              My favorite Thanksgiving truc is to roast two small turkeys instead of one large one. One bird is roasted on Wednesday, cooled and sliced. Gravy is made with the pan drippings and everything is safely tucked in the refrigerator awaiting re-heating the following day.

                                              The second bird is roasted Thursday so the house smells like Thanksgiving, the foil packets of pre-sliced meat are re-heated. Using a large serving platter, the whole bird is centered with hot, sliced meat surrounding it. It always brings "oohs" and "aahs" from the table and some guests have been heard to remark that this is the first time they've ever actually eaten hot Thanksgiving turkey.

                                              I see no reason why this wouldn't work perfectly well for chickens. If you're really energetic, you could bone two birds, stuff and roast them ahead of time, doing the whole slice, package & re-heat thing. Roast chicken #3, per usual and surround with hot, sliced chicken. Pass hot sauce (white wine-sage sounds good) and you are set.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Sherri
                                                easily amused May 5, 2008 03:50 PM

                                                3 Birds minimum. This will present well and if cutting up to serve you should have enough of everyone's favorite... ie White vs dark Many people will only eat one or the other while a few are happy with either, Cover your bases.
                                                This would only be 6 wings! In our family.. that would never fly.. (Excuse the pun)
                                                I often will roast a few extra wings on the side to keep up with the expected demand.

                                                1. re: Sherri
                                                  MakingSense May 5, 2008 03:57 PM

                                                  A woman after my own heart!!!
                                                  I've been doing that for years now. Get the stock and gravy out of the way and the platter looks wonderful with the fresh, hot bird surrounded with the neatly sliced turkey.
                                                  The best part is that the "early bird" can be sliced after it cools down, so the meat slices much more evenly and looks pretty.
                                                  Doing one whole chicken as a "centerpiece" for the platter makes a major difference. Otherwise the platter is a boring jumble of different shaped hunks of meat without a focus or a pattern like you'd have with a roast or things of the same size/shape.

                                                  1. re: Sherri
                                                    sarah galvin May 5, 2008 04:14 PM

                                                    Sherri, that's a great idea. I'll have to try it.

                                                    1. re: Sherri
                                                      shallots May 5, 2008 04:40 PM

                                                      I hope I never do another Thanksgiving for 20, but if I do, I'll remember this brilliant suggestion.

                                                      1. re: Sherri
                                                        alejandraordersdessert May 7, 2008 04:22 PM

                                                        Sherri, This is such a fantastic idea! I actually just had three people cancel (one couple and one individual) so I'm down to a neat dozen (including me). I really like your idea to make one the day before and the other the day of. Sounds really perfect!

                                                      2. Sam Fujisaka May 5, 2008 04:05 PM

                                                        All suggestions are quite good, and very thoughtfully reasoned.

                                                        I'll toss in one more alternative: 8 small birds, each with the spine cut out, flattened by hand, halved, and skewered (to keep each half straight) and then roasted. This would be for either a nice plating or a nice large platter of 15 overlapping halves. If plattered, you could cut halves in half if so requested.

                                                        1. Father Kitchen May 5, 2008 04:34 PM

                                                          Last Wednesday, I roasted two birds for 11 people. We had a fair bit of meat left over and plenty on the carcasses for stock. Mine weighed 8 and 6 lbs. I would suggest you cook three birds. An alternative mentioned is to cook four smaller birds and give everyone a quarter. Personally, I prefer nice pieces of carved chicken to having to hack small bird on my plate.

                                                          1. s
                                                            Smileelisa May 6, 2008 01:48 AM

                                                            How about rock cornish game hens? Each person could have his own bird. There is just the right amount of meat on each and everybody will get what they want.

                                                            1. yayadave May 6, 2008 07:25 AM

                                                              If you need the room for a lot of chickens, cook them standing up, beer can chicken style. And cook the dressing separately. You could cook more smaller chickens faster this way and get one or two kitchen help volunteers to help with the carving.

                                                              1. Bat Guano May 6, 2008 07:38 AM

                                                                My instinct would be for either 4 chickens or 8 cornish hens, so everyone would get either a quarter-chicken, depending on whether they liked dark or white meat, or a half hen. Always better to have too much food than not enough.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Bat Guano
                                                                  danna May 8, 2008 06:18 AM

                                                                  I agree. I would buy 4 small chickens. I try not to get a chicken that weighs more than 3 pounds, they just don't taste as good to me. I would roast 'em hot and fast in the Zuni method, whip out my poultry shears, cut out the backbone and slice each into 4 parts. With a small chicken, this is not a large serving.

                                                                  the OP is certainly more advance than I, but I have never managed to stuff a bird and have the stuffing look presentable...little drips of blood, etc. plus there is the looming food safety question. I bake my stuffing (dressing) in a separate container.

                                                                2. Alacrity59 May 7, 2008 08:39 PM

                                                                  Just thinking about quarter chicken dinners . . . maybe it depends on the side dishes. People have different tastes about white and dark meat too . . . leftovers make swell soup.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Alacrity59
                                                                    DaisyM May 8, 2008 06:49 AM

                                                                    I'd go for 4 whole chickens. My rule of thumb is 1 chicken/4 people using for about a 4lb bird.

                                                                  2. alejandraordersdessert May 11, 2008 02:46 PM

                                                                    SO I ended up roasting three big ones, to be safe. Each about 6-7 pounds. We only needed two and there was a little bit leftover (although we devoured that after getting home from the bar later that night). They were delicious! The third chicken is going to make delicious salad and soup this week. I can't wait! Thanks everyone for your wonderful help!

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: alejandraordersdessert
                                                                      MMRuth May 11, 2008 04:13 PM

                                                                      Did you roast them all at once? How did you end up carving and serving them? Just curious for future reference. Glad to hear all went well.

                                                                    2. a
                                                                      appilm Nov 7, 2011 12:05 PM

                                                                      I came across this thread while searching for the answer to the same question and even though it's from a few years ago I wanted to thank everyone for the extremely helpful info! I used this recipe (http://www.marthastewart.com/316091/d...) to roast two 5lb chickens at once along with a bunch of veggies, and took the suggestion of roasting some extra breasts. I cooked and carved 6 extra breasts earlier in the day along with another side dish. When the two chickens came out of the oven I drizzled a little of the juices over the pre-cooked breasts (my husband's very smart suggestion!) and put them in the oven with the side (a corn casserole) to reheat while the whole chickens rested and were carved. All came together beautifully thanks to this thread! (We served 13 and had a nice amount of left overs. A few people couldn't make it at the last minute but there's no shortage of things to do with extra cooked chicken and the veggies will become soup for dinner tonight.)

                                                                      1. Kajikit Nov 7, 2011 12:13 PM

                                                                        I'd guess three large or four small. Two six-pound behemoths would do it, but the portions are much more attractive if you go for three four-pound birds and give people 1/4 each, than carving up a miniature turkey.

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