Healthy Grilling Options for Your Summer Barbecue

There’s something unsavory about explaining how to make your summer barbecue more nutritious. Mainly because the reason most of us love barbecue recipes is simple: barbecue is absolutely freaking delicious.

The smoky flavor, the salty and savory delight, the smell of fat-marbled meat charred to a crispy doneness—

Whether the food is actually healthy is an afterthought. Or not even a thought. It’s something to be not thought about at all while we hunch over our plates and simply enjoy.

But what if you could preserve all of that delicious barbecue goodness, with little effort and cost, while making your summer meals infinitely healthier?

Below we’ve outlined a few simple, wallet-friendly ways to make your grilled masterpieces truly nutritious and delightful this summer. Here goes.

Marinate your meats before throwing them on the grill

Even doing something as seemingly small and simple as marinating your meats, fish, and poultry before you put them on the barbie can have a huge impact on your health.

You see, when you cook meats, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are released. HCAs are carcinogenic chemicals created when amino acids and creatine react at high temperatures.

These chemicals aren’t just bad and unhealthy for you. They can even be cancer-causing, potentially fatal in the long-term. In fact, studies have linked HSAs to an increased risk of leukemia and tumors. 

Marinade acts as a barrier that protects your grilled meats against high heats, decreasing the amount of HCAs by as much as 99 percent! The acid in marinades can also help prevent the growth of bacteria on your beef and chicken, like listeria.

Pro-tip: Adding rosemary to your marinades can give your barbecue the extra benefit of anti-cancer properties.

Make your meals more nutritious and flavorful with fresh fruits and veggies

This is an obvious way to healthify your backyard barbecue recipes, but it’s still worth diving into. It’s easy to become so fixated on the main course—the meat—that we forget about creating a well-rounded meal. Adding fruits and veggies is an easy way to make your barbecue significantly healthier without taking away any of the deliciousness.

With summer approaching, it’s peak-time for gardening and fresh produce. In fact, you can grill many veggies and fruits alongside your meats. Best part about grilling fruits and veggies? They do not create HSAs, so you don’t have to worry about marinating them (but by all means, please do).

These antioxidant-rich veggies can be grilled and enjoyed all summer long: 

  • Zucchini
  • Asparagus
  • Bell peppers
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomatoes

These summer favorite fruits will hold their shape and become even more flavorful once cooked on the grill:

  • Peaches
  • Melons
  • Pineapple
  • Pears
  • Avocado
  • Figs

Pro-tip: Slice your vegetables equally so that they all cook in a similar timeframe, rather than waiting on a few ‘stragglers’ as the rest of your food gets cold!

Whip up a fresh summer salad

There are few things more refreshing to eat on a hot summer day than a crisp, colorful salad with vitamin-packed vegetables.

So, as you rotate those sausage links on the grill and flip those burgers, make sure someone is inside making a perfectly paired salad. From strawberry summer salads to sesame Soba noodles, there are hundreds of deliciously nutritious salad options for your barbecue. You can find 37 of the best salad recipes for your summer here.

A few more words about salads

A healthy salad is a great source of fiber and healthy fats, while delivering all the antioxidant benefits of the fruits and vegetables you use. What’s more, salads (when done right) can be surprisingly filling. This means you can enjoy just the right amount of barbecue without seriously overdoing it and putting yourself at risk of high blood pressure. Your plate will also look plenty full and colorful with that vibrant salad on the side.

Pro-tip: Fixing a beautiful salad while grilling is a near Herculean effort. Be sure to enlist the help of your cooking friend or spouse to chop up and toss those fresh ingredients while you’re holding down the grill. 

Go lean and clean with your barbecue recipes

Probably the most obvious way to make your grilled eats more nutritious is by choosing leaner, healthier meats. Many times you can do this without sacrificing taste or spending a pretty penny at the grocery store.

Your best bet is to stick with skinless chicken, fish, and lean poultry, which are all terrific sources of protein low in calories. Health professionals recommend limiting the amount of fatty beef, lamb, and pork you consume. These are loaded with saturated fats, increasing your risk of cancer, coronary artery disease, and stroke.

Of course, this is tricky and even sensitive territory. People love and crave their spicy sausages, juicy burgers, and 12 ounce ribeyes...especially during prime barbecue season. But when you are a true grill wizard, you can make just about anything taste incredible. Try out a special marinade on salmon fillets or chicken breasts this upcoming weekend and see what your guests think.

Pro-tip: Can’t go a meal without those barbecue meats? Try focusing on portion control instead.

Kebab skewers for the win this summer

Smoky, savory skewers can give your summer meals more variety, flavor, and nutrition.  By stacking those meats with colorful veggies and fruits, a skewer provides a complete meal by itself. It’s also a fun way to enjoy familiar barbecue favorites.

Looking for skewer recipes? You can find dozens of them here—everything from veggie kebabs to steak fajita skewers. These recipes are super easy to follow and quick to make.

Pro-tip: Skewers go very well with a grain, like rice, quinoa, or even a pasta salad.

Keep your grill clean

So, you grilled an absolute masterpiece of a meal earlier today. The family is more than satisfied and their bellies are delightfully full. Best of all, you’ve lived up to your title as grill master.

Now, it’s time to clean off the char from your grill. Apply a wire brush and scrape off any residual fat that might transfer to the next amazing meal you cook for your guests. You’ll also remove any grease or sugary glazes from your last barbecue, which can harbor harmful bacteria.

Avoid using toxic chemicals when cleaning. All you really need is some warm water and grease-removing soap like Dawn. For beginners, you can find a step-by-step guide on how to clean your grill here.  

Pro-tip: Be sure to wipe down the grill with a towel afterwards to collect any grill-cleaning bristles.

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