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What Is a Serving Size of Meat?

B. Schreiber
B. Schreiber

The serving size of meat is a weighted amount of meat for which nutritional content is given. Serving sizes can vary among different products or producers, but a common serving size is between 3 and 4 ounces (about 85 to 114 grams). The weight of a quarter-pound hamburger patty is 4 oz (114 g), or a bit more than the size of a deck of cards. In the United States, the serving size may be based on individual pieces, such as slices of bacon or pieces of sausage. The U.S. government recommends two servings of meat a day for most adults, or about 6 oz (170 g) total.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a serving size of meat, when cooked, is about a palm-sized amount, and this amount is about the same for beef, poultry, or fish. The USDA also gives the above-mentioned deck of cards or an audio cassette tape as comparisons. A serving size of baked fish has been compared to the size of a checkbook. For chicken, this would be a medium-sized breast or a leg and wing. Cooking methods and the type of meat will affect the nutritional content of a serving, including its calories and fat content.

A serving size of meat is roughly the size of one's palm.
A serving size of meat is roughly the size of one's palm.

The USDA issues dietary guidelines for U.S. citizens and promotes public nutrition. The agency considers a serving size of meat to be about 2 to 3 oz (56 to 85 grams). Still, the serving size listed on food packaging in the U.S. may be based on 2-oz (58-g) or 4-oz (144-g) servings of some meats, and possibly less or more.

In the United States, the USDA promotes leans meats for meeting daily calorie intake. A 3-oz (85-g) serving of baked salmon contains about 175 calories, 10 g of fat, and about 20% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for cholesterol. The same size serving of hamburger has a similar number of calories but more than twice the saturated fat of fish. While chicken is considered lean meat, a fried 3-oz (85-g) serving of chicken contains more than 300 calories and more than 20% of the RDA for total fat.


The USDA includes other protein sources, such as eggs, nuts, and seeds, in the same group as meat. Other sources include peanut butter and soy-based products like soy burgers or tofu. In its recommendations, the USDA considers a serving of these foods to be equal to 1 oz (28 g) of meat. Examples of this size serving include a handful of nuts, 2 tablespoons (32 g) of peanut butter, or one egg.

A Serving Size of Meat Is About the Size Of Your Computer Mouse

The USDA recommends lean meats, such as salmon.
The USDA recommends lean meats, such as salmon.

A serving of meat is typically measured as three or four ounces. This is roughly the size of your computer mouse. Other handy measures are the palm of your hand, a standard deck of playing cards and a pad of 3”x3” sticky notes. For thicker cuts of meat, imagine two decks of cards, pads of sticky notes, or computer mice stacked on top of each other.

You may want to enjoy a steak now and then. Keep an eye on the size of your ribeye, New York strip, or filet mignon. You can easily consume two or more servings of meat in each steak. Most menus will list the size of the steak for your reference.

A serving of fish should be about the size of a checkbook.
A serving of fish should be about the size of a checkbook.

Some cuts of meat, such as bacon or sausage, are measured by piece to get you to your serving size. For example, three strips of bacon is about 3 ounces. Keep in mind that the protein in bacon is accompanied by 161 calories, 108 of which are from fat. About 40% of the fat in bacon is saturated fat — that’s the kind you don’t want to consume. It’s also very high in sodium, which has been linked to stomach cancer and high blood pressure.

Contrast that with a serving of boneless, skinless chicken breast, or about half of a chicken breast, which has 110 calories. The big difference? Only 9 calories come from fat. The rest is pure protein.

What Does a Serving Size of Meat Look Like?

A serving size of meat is going to differ depending on the cut of the meat and how it’s prepared. For example, if you go to a fast food restaurant and order a quarter-pound hamburger, you’re getting one serving of meat.

Various types of meat.
Various types of meat.

If you form that same ground beef into meatballs to go with spaghetti, you’re looking at three meatballs roughly the size of a half dollar coin, so long as you don’t add anything else to your meatballs. Some people swear by adding milk and bread crumbs to their meatballs, so they’d be better off weighing their ingredients separately. Adding milk also adds protein to your meatballs.

If your beef is cut up into small pieces, for example to use in a stir fry, imagine the size of the dice you’d use playing a board game. Three dice is about one ounce of meat. Nine to 12 pieces of beef comprises your serving size.

Fish filets take a different measuring guideline than beef, pork, lamb, or chicken. Since they’re usually longer and thinner, the size of a checkbook is a good guideline. In case you’ve forgotten what checkbooks look like, your smartphone is another way to eyeball the size of a serving of fish. If you take your tuna in steak form, one tuna steak is about 3.5 ounces. If you prefer it from a can, one-quarter of a can gives you your 3 ounce serving. A raw salmon filet is about seven ounces, but is reduced to around five ounces when it’s baked or fried.

Oily fish such as salmon and tuna are higher in fat, but it’s the really good kind: omega-3 fat. Omega-3 fat can help prevent strokes and heart disease; control rheumatological disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and eczema; and protect you against cancer.

How To Determine Serving Size of Meat

The most accurate way to determine the serving size of meat is to use a kitchen scale to measure it. If you’re dining out, you can rely on menus that often list the size of steaks. Ask your server if they can find out the size of other meats on the menu. You can also check menus online, which may have more information than the printed menus at the restaurant.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 5.5 ounces of protein-bearing foods per day. They recommend a mix of lean meats, fish, legumes, nuts, low-fat and no-fat dairy, tofu and eggs.

The AHA suggests you eat five ounces of nuts, seeds, legumes and lentils every week. They also advise you to consume six to eight ounces per week of oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, striped bass and sardines.

The AHA also offers guidelines for how much an ounce of different protein foods is. For example, one egg or two egg whites, one-quarter cup of cooked beans, lentils or peas, one-half ounce of nuts or seeds, one tablespoon of peanut butter, one-quarter cup of tofu, one cup of yogurt and one cup of milk.

A Serving Size of Meat is About the Size of . . .

Other comparisons include:

  • 3 oz cooked meat = one bar of soap
  • 1 hamburger patty = one hockey puck
  • 1 serving of shellfish = one handful

Healthy Serving Size of Meat

The FDA offers an online tool called MyPlate that calculates personalized dietary recommendations based on your individual characteristics, but generally speaking, the FDA recommends that adult women eat two to three servings of protein foods daily and adult men eat three to four (remember that the protein foods category also includes non-meat foods such as beans).

Remember that in the US, food companies can choose their own serving sizes for the standardized nutrition labels found on packaged food, so don’t assume that a frozen meal or can of soup contains exactly three ounces of meat even if the chart says “one serving.”

Healthy Ways To Cook Meat

Cooking methods such as baking, roasting, and poaching require little or no added fat. Stir-frying and sauteing do require some oil but use far less than other frying methods. When grilling, flip food frequently to reduce charing and cut off any especially blackened bits before serving, as frequent consumption of heavily grilled meats has been linked to increased cancer risk. Fresh and dried herbs, citrus juices, mustard seeds, dried or powdered chilis, hot peppers, spices, and dried fruits and vegetables are all ways to flavor meat without using salt or fats.

If you love meat but are trying to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, look for vegetable-heavy recipes that use small amounts of strongly flavored meat such as bacon or steak tips; stir-fries, curries, and casseroles often fall into this category. You can also save bacon grease in a sealed container in the refrigerator and use it instead of butter or oil when cooking vegetables. If you love pork chops, try topping one with a low-sugar sauce or salsa made primarily from fresh fruit (berries and apples are popular choices).

Safety Precautions When Cooking Meat

Check use-by dates and inspect the package for damage before purchasing. Don’t buy meat that looks discolored or dried out.

Always refrigerate raw meat as soon as you bring it home (preferably on the lowest shelf or in a designated drawer), and defrost frozen meat in the microwave or overnight in the refrigerator; do not leave it at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers promptly as well. Your refrigerator should be set to no warmer than 40℉.

Wash your hands before and after handling raw meat. Don’t reuse dishes or utensils that have touched raw meat until they have been thoroughly washed, and sanitize countertops and other surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat or that you touched after handling it.

Safe cooking temperatures vary based on the type of meat. The US FDA recommends the following minimum internal temperatures (measured with a food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the piece):

  • 145℉ – Fin fish; whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb (include a three-minute rest before serving)
  • 160℉ – Ground meat; egg dishes
  • 165℉ – Poultry

Discussion Comments


@Mor - That's not enough for some people though. And I think when people are learning to eat well, it helps to know portion sizes and how many calories are in everything, because they are often surprised how many calories are in things they took for granted.

Heck, even fruit can have quite a few calories if you eat too much of it. Meat can have quite a few as well, particularly when it is eaten in bulk.

I know when I started a diet and thought I would be clever and fill up on steak rather than on biscuits, I was dismayed to find out that I was actually still eating about the same amount of calories, even with lean meat.

Of course, the steak keeps you full for longer, so it has other benefits in the long run.


@umbra21 - You have to make sure you take everything into account when you are judging by scales though. A piece of steak with a lot of fat on it is going to have more calories than a lean piece which weighs the same amount.

Likewise, a chicken leg which has been fried is going to have more calories than the same chicken leg which has been baked.

But, I don't really think people should count calories too exactly anyway, as it takes away from the enjoyment of the food.

Figure out roughly how much everything is and leave it at that. If you are eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and lean meats and getting lots of exercise you are going to be healthy.


You really need to pay attention to the packaging when working out your serving sizes of food. Often they will list a serving with the calories and the serving size is actually much smaller than you might expect.

For example, even though a standard serving of white fish might be around the size of a checkbook as it says in the article, I've seen salmon packages which list a serving size as only a 50 grams which is much smaller than that. Salmon can be quite high in calories and listing a small serving size can make it look as though it is less fatty than it really is (bear in mind that salmon is very good for you, none the less, it does contain quite a few calories).

Judging by eye can also be difficult, which is why I think it's always better to just use a kitchen scale to figure out your calories.

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    • A serving size of meat is roughly the size of one's palm.
      By: Kenishirotie
      A serving size of meat is roughly the size of one's palm.
    • Beef.
      By: Giovanni Burlini
    • The USDA recommends lean meats, such as salmon.
      By: Tim UR
      The USDA recommends lean meats, such as salmon.
    • A serving of fish should be about the size of a checkbook.
      A serving of fish should be about the size of a checkbook.
    • Various types of meat.
      Various types of meat.