Nutritionists Rank The Best And Worst Meats And Proteins To Grill

From chicken and salmon to burgers, hot dogs and vegan offerings, experts help sort out the options for your next cookout.

The sun is out, the grill is on and everyone’s ready for the perfect summer meal. Is this the day to finally try an Impossible Burger? Is that bratwurst worth the splurge? How would a meal of salmon treat you? We asked nutritionists for their recommendations on the best protein for your plate.

As always, it’s important to remember that this is just one part of a meal, and just one meal in your life, so don’t stress too much about your choices. “My best advice is to grill what you love,” Sara Haas, a registered dietician nutritionist, told HuffPost. “If a hot dog or brat is what you’re craving, go for it. Just be sure to complement it with plenty of other nourishing foods. I recommend starting with a crudité platter and fresh summer fruit, then going for the protein.”

#1 Best bet: Grilled salmon

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When it comes to best bets for grill-worthy proteins, the nutritionists we spoke to had one consistent favorite: grilled salmon. “Not only is it loaded with omega-3s, but salmon also grills beautifully,” RDN Amy Myrdal Miller told HuffPost. “It’s especially flavorful when rubbed with a mix of brown sugar and spices.” RDN Amy Gorin told HuffPost: “It’s my top choice for a barbecue, because it’s a lean protein that also has heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.”

#2: Skinless white meat chicken

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Closely ranked behind salmon is skinless white chicken meat (i.e. skinless chicken breast). Nutritionists raved about its lean protein power. “It’s packed with protein, yet it’s low in fat, saturated fat and calories,” RDN Karen Ansel told HuffPost. “Make yours even healthier by serving it on a whole wheat bun with sliced avocado, baby spinach and barbecue sauce.”

#3: Beef burgers (but keep them lean)

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You might be surprised to see a beef burger ranked so highly, but the nutritionists rated it right behind salmon and white chicken meat. “Try leaner options like ground sirloin or ground beef that’s 90% lean,” RDN Amanda Frankeny told HuffPost. “Fattier ground beef dominates the butcher’s counter, so be sure to read labels.”

Miller suggested a blended burger, which adds plants to the mix but retains a burger’s flavor and texture. “I love to add pre-cooked, diced cremini mushrooms that I cool and then add to the ground beef before making the patties,” she said. “The mushrooms add moistness and delicious umami flavor.”

#4: Dark meat chicken (bone in, skin on)

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For fans of chicken legs and thighs. Ansel said cooking with the skin on and the bone in can add flavor and keep chicken meat moist. But there’s a catch: “The skin definitely adds fat, so I would recommend skipping it. If you’re doing the grilling, you can remove it before cooking and brush the chicken with barbecue sauce. Otherwise, simply peel it back from the cooked chicken with a fork and dip your chicken in some sauce for extra flavor.”

#5: Turkey burgers (proceed with caution)

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This entry comes with some caveats. “You may be surprised to learn that turkey burgers aren’t as low in fat as you may think,” RDN Toby Smithson told HuffPost. “They’re often higher in fat and saturated fat than skinless white meat chicken.” RDN Jill Weisenberger explained: “Lots of turkey burgers are super high in fat because they have skin ground in with the meat. Don’t simply assume that it’s leaner than beef.” Gorin advised looking for labels that say “lean,” which will help you get a less fatty protein.

If you’re choosing a turkey burger but really craving a beef one, it might be time to reconsider. “Honestly, the calories in a beef and turkey aren’t significantly different,” Frankeny said. “Whichever you choose, portion out four-ounce patties, load on vegetables or slaw and use a modest amount of condiments.”

#6: Meatless burgers and dogs

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We asked the nutritionists about processed plant protein options like the Impossible Burger or tofu dogs. Smithson said: “It’s important to check the nutrition facts label for fat, saturated fat and trans fat for these protein choices. For example, the fat and saturated fat in the Impossible Burger ranks the same as some animal proteins. It’s also important to note that it has 14 grams of carbohydrates, which is equivalent to carbs in a slice of bread. You’ll need to take this into consideration if you’re watching your carb intake.” Weisenberger told us: “Many people are fooled into thinking these imitation burgers are more wholesome or nutritious than animal products, but they’re often highly processed and high in saturated fat.”

When it comes to tofu dogs, Smithson recommended choosing one with at least seven to eight grams of protein. “It’s important to read the labels and compare those plant-based products, because some are better than others.” Ansel has a great idea if you want to avoid the sodium and additives in some meatless products: “Look for some grilled veggies and pile them on a whole wheat burger bun for a meatless option with lots more nutrition.”

#7: Hot dogs

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The nutritionists agreed that the least desirable options are hot dogs and bratwursts. “Even though all-beef hot dogs are made with beef, they actually have more than twice as much fat as they do protein,” Ansel said. Dogs and wursts are high in sodium and fat, and they usually contain nitrates. “If eaten frequently, nitrates are associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer through the World Health Organization,” Frankeny said. “But in the context of a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, some hot dogs from time to time won’t do you in.”

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