When the sun comes out, the days get longer it can only mean one thing: it’s time to light up the BBQ.
But, so many people have asked us around this time of year, is there such a thing as a healthy bbq? Well, let’s find out.
For those of you who live in the UK, you’ll know how this goes.
Because the weather’s not that great most of the time, we’re simply not accustomed to BBQing on the kind of scale our friends, say, in the American south are. Here, the modus operandi of many is to grab a disposable BBQ in a foil tin, plonk it on a local park or in the garden, fire it up and throw some kind of protein on it.
Add in a shedload of alcohol and the results are somewhat predictable: a scorched square of grass on the lawn, meat that’s almost black with char on the outside and slightly underdone inside, combined with a raging hangover the next day.
Let’s be honest, whenever someone says “shall we have a bbq tonight?” it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a particularly healthy dinner. affair.
The History of The BBQ
At Elevated we love a good grill, but we also love the concept of low ’n’ slow cooking US style where you take an underrated cut of meat and cook it at low temperatures until it’s almost falling to pieces before combining it with a tangy BBQ sauce.
American BBQ dates back until at least the 18th century when George Washington mentioned he attended a a ‘barbicue’ in Alexandria, Virginia, but the concept probably dates all the way back to 1600s and potentially earlier than that given that it early European explorers first saw Taino Indians cooking animals over smoke and fire.
Known as ‘barabicue’ which translates as “sacred pit’ in English, it soon became baracoa for Spanish settlers before taking on its anglicised name as it headed north into the southern states such as Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.
American BBQ tends to rely on slow cooking using low heats to tenderise the hard working muscles in the protein of choice, and smoke to add flavour. The latter is not essential, although Jason has come up with a simple home-smoking hack if you want to try it out for yourselves – it certainly adds flavour.
Are BBQs Unhealthy?
The problem with this traditional American BBQ potentially comes not from the meat – the slow cooking that makes the final dish so tender and moist helps with digestion – but more with some of the sides that tend to be somewhat overindulgent: mac ’n’ cheese and butter-loaded cornbread are just two that spring to mind.
But pair that meat with a side salad and, perhaps if you’re into your carbs, a jacket potato and you have a well-balanced meal as long as you don’t overdo the portion sizes.
Elsewhere, the BBQ sauces can be suger-laden – one tip to avoid this is to big-up the flavour with spices and pull back on the sugar.
While we’ve used an unrefined dark muscovado in our healthy bbq sauce recipe (pictured above), Jason has certainly upped the spice levels to the max with some serious antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory spices in there.
And, rather than dousing your bbq meat in sauce, we’ve also created a fantastic rub, also packed with flavour, and anti-inflammatory properties too. Subscribers can check it out here.
Can a BBQ be a Healthy Dinner?
A barbecue can absolutely be a healthy dinner option, provided you make mindful choices about the foods you include in your grilling menu.
Grilling offers a fantastic way to prepare lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, or fish. Choosing these lean meats over fatty cuts of beef or processed sausages reduces saturated fat intake and provides essential nutrients like protein, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Incorporating a variety of vegetables onto the grill, such as peppers, courgettes, aubergine, and mushrooms, adds fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants to the meal.
Moreover, opting for whole-grain sides and buns can enhance the nutritional profile of your barbecue. Whole grains like quinoa or whole wheat couscous can complement the proteins and vegetables, offering complex carbohydrates, fiber, and additional vitamins.
Creating flavourful marinades with herbs and spices, rather than relying on heavy sauces, not only adds taste but also contributes beneficial antioxidants. By maintaining a balance between lean proteins, vibrant vegetables, and wholesome grains, a barbecue can transform into a well-rounded, nutritious dinner option that your family and guests will love too!
However, it’s not just about the meat and veggies, don’t forget about the condiments! We all love a sweet, tangy bbq sauce, but it can be absolutely packed with sugar. And, if you’re trying to be healthy, that’s probably something you want to avoid.
Luckily, we’ve made our own healthy bbq sauce recipe, which our subscribers have exclusive access to, created by our professional chef Jason and our nutritionist James, so you know it’s going to taste great and be good for your body too!
What Are The Healthiest Foods to Eat at a BBQ?
Barbecues are often associated with grilled meats and calorie- and fat-laden side dishes that leave you absolutely stuffed afterwards. But, fear not, there are plenty of healthy and delicious options to include in your spread. Here are some of the healthiest foods to enjoy at a barbecue all summer long:
Grilled Vegetables and vegetable skewers
Bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and asparagus can be seasoned and grilled for a flavourful and nutritious side dish. Plus, put them on a kebab with some beautifully seasoned grilled chicken and you have a healthy bbq winner that’s packed with nutrients and protein too.
A personal favourite in our family is grilled corn on the cob, with just a little bit of butter and salt to season. Grille veggies never disappoint on bbq day.
Lean Proteins – Grilled chicken, turkey and white fish
Opt for lean meats like chicken breasts, turkey burgers, or fish as part of your healthy summer dinner. This helps to ensure you’re getting your protein intake, and, as it’s cooked on the grill the good will be juicy and smokey too.
For an extra hit of flavour, be sure to marinate your chosen meat with herbs and spices. A well seasoned, slow grilled chicken is an absolutely delicious addition to your selection of healthy bbq recipes.
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Whether you’re veggie or not, a grilled mushroom is super tasty when it’s come straight off the bbq. These large mushrooms have a meaty texture and can be marinated and grilled for a satisfying, plant-based option.
Take a break from the meat for a second and prepare salads with a variety of colourful vegetables, leafy greens, and a light vinaigrette dressing for a refreshing side.
It’s a great way to add more colour and diversity to your healthy bbq recipes, plus it’s a super nutritious addition too!
Skewers with Lean Protein and Vegetables
Combine lean meats or tofu with colorful grilled veggies on skewers for a balanced and visually appealing dish. Plus, they’re super easy and quick to cook in the grill too.
Grilled chicken is always a winner in our house. Think Nandos but on wooden skewers.
If you’re looking for delicious bbq skewer recipes, we’ve created super healthy options right here. Plus, Jason’s video guide will help you through each step.
How to Cook Low and Sow
If you are grilling over coals make sure the coals are white before starting to cook – that way flames are not licking your meat and causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form which are potentially carcinogenic in large doses, as are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that come from fat smoke.
Despite the carcinogenic nature of such substances, it’s probably worth nothing that you’d have to be eating a lot of bad BBQ to hit those kind of levels.
Make sure, of course, that any meat is cooked through properly, remembering the line between food poisoning and ‘nice and juicy’ is probably quite thin. Investing in a meat thermometer will help. As soon as the internal temperature of meat cooked on a grill hits 75C, then take it off and serve it as soon as possible.
Healthy BBQ Recipes from Elevated Food For Life
If you want to explore some healthy bbq recipes, check out our recipes on the Elevated Food For Life subscription. The first 30 days are free, so why not sign up today!
In this video we talk more about the healthy bbq recipes you can expect. We’ve created a range of summer dinners, from a healthy bbq sauce, through to delicious grilling recipes that are not only good for you, but delicious too!