Barbecue -- The New Health Food?!? 11 Tips to Keep It Lean

Grilled fish or fried fish? Smoked turkey or chicken in cream sauce? Hey, no contest.
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Photo credit: Reprinted from The Barbecue! Bible. Photo copyright © Ben Fink.

Barbecue --the new health food. Sounds like an oxymoron (if not heresy). Yet, traveling Planet Barbecue as I do several months a year, I've seen that, in many cultures, grilled meats are some of the leanest, meanest, healthiest entrees around.

Of course, I love brisket and ribs as much as the next guy, but for everyday eating at home with my family, we tend to grill lean meats and seafood with lots of grilled vegetables on the side. We go out of our way to buy organic meats and seafood from local fishermen. For flavor, we use the searing heat of the grill or fragrant wood smoke from a smoker rather than adding a lot of fatty flavorings like butter, cream, and egg yolks. Grilled fish or fried fish? Smoked turkey or chicken in cream sauce? Hey, no contest.

A lot of us start the New Year with resolutions to lose weight or eat healthier. Here are valuable tips to help you do just that -- while keeping you busy with your favorite pastime: firing up the grill.

  • Cheap meat exacts a heavy price in terms of environmental depredation and long-term health threats. Do you really want to ingest industrial meat shot up with growth hormones and antibiotics? If you haven't yet seen the documentary Food, Inc., rent it.

  • Grill naturally lean cuts of meat and poultry, like beef tenderloin or flank steak, pork loin and tenderloin, chicken and turkey breasts, leg of lamb, etc. Add richness with fresh herbs, fiery hot sauces, and big-flavored condiments like capers and olives.
  • Make "pulled" chicken or turkey instead of pulled pork. Same big smoky flavor with a lot less fat.
  • Want to grill something fat and luscious without guilt? Try fatty fish, like wild salmon, bluefish, mackerel, and fresh sardines. They're rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent for coronary health, and the oils keep the fish from drying out on the grill.
  • Go meatless on Monday -- at least once. One calorie of protein from beef requires 54 calories of fossil fuels; one calorie of protein from soy requires only two calories of fossil fuel. So what are some good meatless dishes to grill? Quesadillas. Chiles rellenos. Portobello mushrooms.
  • Grill whole unpeeled eggplant directly on the embers until charred all over and soft. Puree with garlic, lemon, olive oil, and tahini to make the world's best baba ghanoush. Serve with olive oiled grilled pita bread.
  • Give grilled tofu a chance (preferably with miso barbecue sauce to help it go down). Hey, 128 million Japanese can't be wrong.
  • Pin asparagus stalks, okra, scallions, green beans or other vegetables into rafts (lay the slender vegetables side by side and pin crosswise with toothpicks). Lightly brush with sesame or olive oil and season with salt and pepper before grilling.
  • For another killer grilled appetizer, grill slices of country-style bread. Rub with cut garlic cloves and a halved tomato and drizzle with olive oil. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Make your own home-smoked beef jerky for a high-protein, low-fat snack.
  • Use dried and fresh herbs, spices, and citrus fruit for providing bold flavors without fat.

    Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is