Making a Cold Cut Platter: How Much Deli Meat Per Person?

a cold cut platter made by us

I have to admit. I was really excited to write this article.

There is something about a cold cut platter that makes me happy. A good deli platter is like a work of art if you ask me. Piles of meat, cheese and garnishes arranged on a big tray is a beautiful thing.

When I was a little kid I would walk into a family party or holiday gathering and the cold cut tray was where I’d head first. I loved staring at it and deciding my plan of attack. I wonder how many pounds of roast beef sandwiches I’ve eaten over the years.

What kind of sandwich would I make first? Would I use mayonnaise or mustard? Maybe both?

I knew I’d be having multiple sandwiches so I had to strategize.

I’m still really into cold cut platters today. I love making them for our catering customers at Mortadella Head. They need to have the right combination of meat, cheese, vegetables and spreads. They also need to be made with a lot of care so they look good.

A proper cold cut platter should be the centerpiece of the buffet table at every party.

What Is a Proper Cold Cut Tray?

A proper cold cut tray should have the right combination of meats, cheeses and vegetables. They are usually made to serve a large group of people at a party, holiday or event.

In this article I’ll refer to the sliced meats as cold cuts. Some of you might be used to calling them luncheon meats. We are talking about processed meats that you buy at the deli counter. These pre-sliced meats may not be the healthiest, but they sure are delicious.

A cold cut tray is usually made with the intention of people making their own sandwiches. It can be a main course or they can be presented as side dishes.

In my experience, it usually depends on the time of day. If it’s an office lunch, a cold cut platter is usually the main course. If it’s dinner, the cold cut platter is served with other things such as pasta, meatballs, or lasagna.

No matter what time of day it is, a good deli platter will be piled high with slices of deli meat and cheese.

various types of cold cut meat

Various Types of Cold Cut Platters

There are different types of cold cut trays to serve to your guests. You can make a traditional cold cut platter with things that you can find at your local deli counter. I’m talking about ham, turkey breast and roast beef. This style of cold cut tray is usually served with American cheese, Swiss cheese and Provolone cheese.

An Italian cold cut platter is also common. This style will have a variety of Italian cold cuts like mortadella, capicola, salami and prosciutto. The cheese that you will find on these platters is usually fresh mozzarella, sliced provolone and sharp provolone.

There is also a time and place where the cold cut platter may be for high-end occasions where sandwiches won’t be made. An example would be a cocktail party. In a situation like this, the guests will put the sliced meats and cheeses onto a small plate and walk around with it. This type of platter will be closer to a charcuterie board. You might want to use things like sopressata, prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano.

In a situation like this the serving size will be smaller because it’s an antipasto. A snacking platter usually calls for less lunch meat because there will be a larger meal following the appetizer course.

When Do You Need A Cold Cut Platter

We make cold cut platters for all types of occasions. They are a great way to feed a large number of guests in a fun way.

People can serve themselves and make their own exciting creations. In my opinion, people enjoy browsing the different varieties of meats and cheeses. It’s an easy way to make a large number of people happy even if they have different tastes and preferences.

Order a cold cut tray for an office meeting when you will be working through lunch. Get some fresh rolls and a variety of pickles and spread.

If you’re having a holiday dinner at your house you should have a big cold cut platter.  They are great as an appetizer on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

If you have a Christening, graduation or First Holy Communion a cold cut tray will keep your guests happy until the main course is served. A glass of wine and some finger sandwiches is a nice way to welcome your guests.

a very big sandwich with cold cut meat, greens and tomatoes
How much deli meat do you think you’d need for a single sandwich like that?

The Cold Cuts You Need To Know

Ham: This pork product is delicious. There are many types of ham out there. Baked ham, boiled ham, honey ham and Black Forest ham are just a few. Ham is great anytime of the day. It belongs on every cold cut platter.

Roast Beef: A good roast beef should be cooked rare and sliced really thin. It can be seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper and herbs. It’s great hot or at room temperature.

Turkey: Try to get a whole muscle turkey breast and slice it thin. There are processed versions out there that aren’t as good.

Mortadella: This Italian cold cut is made of finely ground pork mixed with spices, pieces of fat and pistachios. It makes delicious sandwiches and is great on a charcuterie board too.

Capicola: This Italian cold cut is made from whole muscle pork meat. It’s dry cured with spices and sliced thin for sandwiches and snacking.

Salami: Salami is an air dried sausage made with ground meat and spices. It’s usually made with pork but can also be made with beef and other types of meat.

a roast beef sandwich

How To Design Your Cold Cut Platter

Most delis and caterers will have a variety of cold cut platters to choose from. This makes it a lot easier for you. The meats, cheese and garnishes are already chosen for you.

Different sized platters feed different amounts of people. If you are having 12 people at the event you’ll know what platter to get. If you’re having 40 people at the event, you’ll have a good idea of how many platters you need.

You can also create your own cold cut platter. It’s not hard to do and it’s pretty fun.

Choose the meat and cheese that you want. With some simple math you will be able to figure out how much meat you’ll need.

You can have a traditional tray with ham, roast beef and turkey. Add some American cheese, cheddar and Swiss.

Include lettuce, sliced tomatoes, pickles and onions. Some mayonnaise and a couple different mustards should be fine.

If you go with an Italian platter you can get imported salami, mortadella with pistachios and hot capicola.

Get some interesting pickles and spreads. It’s your time to get creative. I like roasted peppers, giardiniera and artichoke hearts.

You can also put out some pesto, Calabrian chili aioli and extra virgin olive oil.

turkey meat

How much deli meat per person?

When it’s time to construct your deli platter you need to know how much deli meat you need to buy. This is when you want to come up with a custom combination of meats.

You want to walk into the grocery store with the confidence in knowing that you’re going to have enough food for your guests.

How many pounds of meat you buy will depend on a couple of factors. The number of guests that will be at the event and what else will be served at the event.

They say that the general rule of thumb is six ounces of cold cuts per adult. That is assuming that these people will only be making a single sandwich.

In my experience, it depends on the crowd. If you’re having a high school graduation party and the football team is coming, you can be sure they will be making a couple sandwiches each.

The amount of meat you buy will also depend on the other food you are serving. If you are having trays of lasagna, meatballs, chicken parm and salad you probably won’t need too much lunch meat.

If the cold cut tray is the main course and it’s a bunch of old ladies at the party, 6 ounces of deli meat per person is probably a safe bet.

If the cold cut tray is an appetizer and it will be used for finger sandwiches a 2-ounce serving of deli meat will be fine.

You also want to make sure the cold cuts are sliced properly. You can get enough ounces of meat per person, but if the slices are too thick you’ll have a problem.

You want to ask the guy at the deli counter to slice the cold cuts thin. I think the perfect sized slice is about a half ounce. That means if you order a pound of lunch meat, which is 16 ounces of meat, you should have 32 slices.

The amount of meat you need to order is basically just simple math. If you need 12 servings of deli meat, you’re going to need 4 and a half pounds.

The amount of cheese you need is similar. You won’t need as much cheese as you do meat.

A good rule of thumb is that you will need one ounce of cheese per sandwich.

The cheese slices are usually about a half ounce each. On your next visit to the deli, ask the deli man to weigh one for you. If it’s more than a half ounce it’s probably too thick.

If you follow this formula, for every six ounces of meat you should have one ounce of cheese. The meat portions are bigger than the cheese portions.

Our Guide to Making Your Own Cold Cut Platter

Here is a quick guide to building your own cold cut tray for a dozen people.

We are going to make this tray with some simple meats and cheeses. Let’s go with ham, turkey and roast beef.

I’m going to guide you through the buying process for creating a nice cold-cut platter for 12 people. This is assuming that the deli meat thickness is a half ounce per slice.

If you are having a large party with more than 12 people, all you have to do is multiply these numbers based on the amount of guests.

We are going to base this on a serving of cold cuts being 6 ounces. Some people say a quarter pound of cold cuts per person is the right amount. I like to make a sandwich with a half pound of cold cuts. We will meet in the middle at 6 ounces for this guide.

The suggested amount of lunch meat for 12 people is 72 ounces. That’s 4 and a half pounds of deli meat.

If we divide that by the three (3) types of meat, that’s 1 and a half pounds each.

Let’s go over the numbers.

How much ham do we need? We need 24 ounces of ham.

How much roast beef do we need? We also need 24 ounces of roast beef.

How much turkey breast do we need? We need 24 ounces of turkey breast.

Now let’s go over the cheese. Let’s use American, Provolone and Swiss. We’ll assume each slice of cheese is a half ounce.

That’s a quarter pound of each cheese. If you are talking about slices, that’s 8 slices of each cheese.

We also need some spreads. Let’s do mayo and mustard. We aren’t going to deal with teaspoons of spreads because I like to work in ounces. I suggest 8 ounces of mayo and 8 ounces of mustard.

You’re going to need some bread. What type of sandwich style do you want to serve?

Go to your local bakery or supermarket and get some fresh loaves of bread. You can do rolls or sliced bread depending on what your guests will like.

Rye bread makes a great sandwich. Take a slice of bread and slather on some grainy mustard.

Italian bread is a good choice too. Crusty slices of bread that are soft on the inside can’t be beat.

Add some pickles, thinly sliced onion, lettuce and tomato and you’ll have a cold cut platter to be proud of.

Cold Cut Platter FAQs

Q: In short, how much meat should I buy?
A: On average you will need between 4 and 6 ounces of cold cuts per person if you are serving sandwiches.

Q: How many ounces in a slice of deli meat?
A: Recent research that I have done shows that the average sized slice of deli meat is a half ounce. Sometimes it will be sliced thicker which will make it thicker.

Q: What is the best way to slice ham?
A: I believe the best way to have ham sliced at the deli counter is to have it sliced as thin as possible. If you ask the deli person to shave the ham he should know what that means.

Q: What are the best garnishes for an Italian style cold cut platter?
A: I think the best garnishes for an Italian style cold cut platter are roasted peppers, giardiniera, pickled onions, artichoke hearts, marinated mushrooms and banana peppers.

Q: What are some sandwich spreads for a cold cut platter?
A: You can use mayonnaise, yellow mustard, brown mustard, honey mustard, basil pesto, Calabrian chili aioli and garlic aioli.

Q: What are the best cold cuts for a charcuterie board?
A: I believe the best cold cuts for a charcuterie board are imported Italian meats such as mortadella, capocolla, sopressata and prosciutto. There are times when I also like to add slices of porchetta to the board.

Q: What are the best types of cheese to serve with a traditional American cold cut platter?
A: Keep it simple and use American cheese, cheddar, Swiss and Provolone. These are cheeses that will satisfy just about everyone. Use good quality cheese and your guests will appreciate it.

5 thoughts on “Making a Cold Cut Platter: How Much Deli Meat Per Person?”

  1. I am making a meet and cheese tray for my coworkers just because they are the nicest people ever there are 40 of them. I want to get enough of ham, turkey salami, an American Swiss or provolone cheese. How many pounds do I get a beach? Would you be able to help me? Thank you.

  2. Hey I’m planning cold cuts for a large group at a campout, and these figures will be great for planning and budgeting! Thank you for sharing.

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