The Healthiest BBQ Foods For Your Waistline (So, Get Grilling)

Written by Cristina Powell, PN1, ME-3, CMS

Healthiest BBQ Foods

Depending on where you live, or perhaps where you are from, the word barbecue may be used as either a noun or a verb. For example, who wants barbecue for dinner tonight? Or are we going to the barbecue this weekend? Well, follow us on our journey through the healthiest BBQ foods (and what you should avoid).

The Healthiest BBQ Foods Checklist

Sauce is Boss

As anyone knows, there are many variations of barbecue: vinegar-based, tomato-based, mustard-based, smoky ones, spicy ones… the sky is really the limit. One thing that is pretty standard across the board is the list of ingredients in the store-bought sauces leave little to be desired.

If you pick up any bottle in the store, one of the first three ingredients is usually high fructose corn syrup. This is bad news for your health and even worse for your waistline, which makes barbecue sauce made with high fructose corn syrup public enemy #1. Avoid these at all costs as (very few will ever make a healthiest bbq foods list). Instead, create one of your own using healthy ingredients. One of my favorites is super simple to whip up, and it doesn’t contain any unhealthy additives:

Healthy BBQ Sauce Recipe

  • ½ cup of tomato paste
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

*Optional add ins:
Liquid smoke
Hot sauce

Other flavor options include teriyaki marinades, thin vinegar-based sauces, and exotic turmeric-garlic sauces.

Now that we have covered both the best and worst sauce ingredients, let’s discuss the best and worst foods to hit the grill.

Grilled Veggies

You will never, ever go wrong with barbecuing veggies. Most folks don’t even think of queuing-up vegetables such as zucchini, squash, peppers, tomatoes, or mushrooms. While we may add these to our skewers when making shish kebabs, we don’t usually make these the stars of the show, which is a shame. Once you’ve enjoyed some of your favorite veggies grilled, you’ll understand!

Just slice your vegetables (keeping them thick, so they don’t slip between the grates, or using skewers or a grill basket) and lightly toss them with oil (you should need just a tablespoon or less), add salt and pepper, and grill until they reach the desired tenderness. (For some extra flavor, after grilling, you can drizzle with balsamic vinegar.)

Fruits are another food that can (and should, in my opinion) be thrown on the grill. Pineapple and peaches are some of the most popular choices.

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Now to the Main Event…

When selecting meats, always go with lean cuts, such as sirloin, top round, or flank. And of course, chicken, turkey (dark meat turkey is ok), and fish are on the healthiest BBQ foods list as well.

What I would avoid are the processed meats (think hot dogs, bratwurst, sausages). These are all well-known for grilling, and easy to throw on a bun for a picnic, but they’re far from figure friendly due to their typically higher calorie counts.

Be mindful to cook all meats to proper temperatures, as undercooking foods may present health concerns. Many people don’t realize that overcooking foods presents health concerns as well. Carcinogenic compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons form when meat is cooked at high temps or over a direct flame. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to lower your risk of consuming these compounds by choosing to eat meats that aren’t overdone, and avoid charring your meat by cooking it more slowly over medium temperatures rather than putting the flames on high. For one example, well-done meat can contain 3.5 times more HCA than meat that is medium-rare. (Vegetables do not create these types of chemicals, so go ahead and grill away.)

Other tips to reduce the risk of grilling carcinogens include using lots of spices and herbs for flavoring your meats, as these can contain potent antioxidants. Some to add to your grilling arsenal include basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme. Marinating your meats in advance may also increase your protection (some research indicates by up to 99%). And flip your meat regularly (again to avoid charring).

When it comes to grilling, here are some of our healthiest BBQ foods and choices. So, enjoy your BBQ this season and throughout the year!

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