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Low-fat barbecue: What a concept!

Healthy BBQ grillingThe phrase low-fat barbecue may strike some folks as an oxymoron, but hospital registered dietitian Kelly Skretta says it is definitely doable – with delicious results. To keep your backyard barbecue from deteriorating into an artery-clogging calorie fest, be choosy about what you grill. Follow a few simple guidelines and check out these two tasty recipes. 

Barbecuing uses healthy cooking techniques for a low-fat, healthy lifestyle – especially when compared with frying.

For grilling beef or pork, Skretta recommends:

  • Choose lean cuts with the word loin or round in their names.
  • Look for at least 93 percent fat-free (extra-lean) ground round for burgers. 
  • Keep portion sizes to 4 ounces raw or 3 ounces cooked, about the size of deck of cards.
  • Trim away fat before cooking.

Tastes like chicken!

Chicken’s leanness makes it a natural for grilling – and you don’t need to remove the skin until after you cook it. (Removing the skin before eating eliminates excess fat, but there’s no significant difference in fat content whether you leave the skin on or take it off during cooking.) Leaving the skin on adds significantly to the moisture content, so the chicken won’t be tough or dry.

Grilled turkey burgers make a nice change of pace from hamburgers. Be sure to choose fat-free or extra-lean ground turkey white meat. This recipe for Tender Turkey Burgers adds grated veggies to the patties for a little zing. 

Marinated and grilled fish steaks, such as halibut or salmon, are also healthy barbecue menu ideas. You can even grill fish kebobs if you use firm-fleshed fish. Try this delicious high-protein, low-calorie recipe for Spicy Fish Fillets.

Healthy marinades

Contrary to popular belief, fat isn’t an essential ingredient in a marinade or barbecue sauce. It’s the acid in lemon, lime, pineapple or vinegar in the marinade that tenderizes the meat. Look for low-calorie or low-fat marinades and salad dressings. 

Or make your own marinade using a 3-to-1 ratio of vinegar to oil. Try experimenting with ingredients like balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary and cayenne pepper.

A word about sauce

Most bottled barbecue sauces are high in sugar and salt. Consider reduced sugar/sodium options, make your own sauce or just let the natural, delicious flavor of grilled food speak for itself.

Don't forget veggies and fruit

Veggies and fruit can find a welcome home on the barbecue grill, as well, Skretta says.

  • Marinate veggies and place them on skewers or on a tray for grilling.
  • Wrap veggies in foil with a little sauce, broth or vinegar and then place on the grill.
  • Grilled fruit like peaches and pineapple make wonderful additions to entrees.
  • Serve assorted grilled fruits – apples, peaches, mangoes and pineapple – as a tasty, antioxidant-rich dessert. 


Speaking of fresh fruits and veggies, be sure to include plenty of them as alternatives to the high-calorie, high-fat traditional barbecue favorites like potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad or French fries.