Healthier Backyard Grilling

How to make nutritious swaps for a healthier—but still meaty—backyard BBQ plate that doesn’t sacrifice those crave-able ’cue flavors
rack o ribs

What is a balanced barbecue plate? For some, it’s an act of dexterity. Backyard diners test the limits of paper plates by propping them up with a single hand and piling them high with beef brisket, toasted rolls and heaping scoops of macaroni salad. For others, the idea of balanced focuses less on quantity and more on quality.

At its most basic level, a barbecue plate should consist of four main parts: one carbohydrate (typically starch), one protein, several servings of colorful salads and a small serving of healthy fats, such as an oil-based salad dressing.

Now, for all you carnivores put there, we know this plate doesn’t sound nearly as appetizing as the aforementioned bigger-than-Texas barbecue platter, but if prepared correctly, a balanced plate can offer the same mouthwatering flavors with even more health benefits.
So, what exactly should you put on the grill? The good news is, when you consider healthy barbecue recipes, you don’t have to swap out the proteins. You can still sink your teeth into chicken wings, brisket, ribs and quarter-pound burgers. You simply change how you prepare them.

Go crazy for kabobs.
As your proteins soak in the marinade, brighten up your plate by prepping vegetables for grilling. Really anything goes here. Peppers, onions, brussels sprouts, corn, zucchini and mushrooms all taste better with a little char. Simply brush them with butter, lemon and the seasoning of your choice and stack them onto a skewer. These veggie kabobs are grilled to perfection in 15 minutes or less and add a ton of flavor and color to your plate.

grilled veggies

Make your own sauce.
Store-bought marinades and grilling sauces are loaded with excess sodium and preservatives. Cut the artificial ingredients by opting for a from-scratch sauce instead. The base of nearly every barbecue sauce includes a combination of brown sugar, vinegars, ketchup and spices. Alter the recipes as needed to capture the unique flavors of your preferred ’cue like Jamaican Jerk, Cajun or classic.You can grill fruit, too

cauliflower mac and cheese dishSwitch up those sides.
Now it’s time to dish out the true stars of a backyard barbecue: the sides. Thankfully, much like barbecue sauces, you don’t have to ditch these delicacies entirely. Reimagine your potato salad as oil-based rather than mayo-based. Substitute standard pasta for whole-wheat or cauliflower version for macaroni and cheese. Not willing to change up the ol’ family recipe? No problem! We eat with our eyes first, so preparing smaller portions of these delicious, but gut-busting sides will trick you into scooping less onto your plate.

You can grill fruit, too.
The grill is not solely reserved for savory bites. Throwing some fruit on the grates can turn uninspired produce into charred confections that can be enjoyed before, with or after dinner. Like vegetable skewers, grilled fruit salads are bright and nutritious and round out the colorful salad requirement of a balanced barbecue plate. To make, cut and grill kiwi, pineapple, mango, peach and watermelon, then toss with fresh berries and yogurt dressing to serve.

Local liquor beats beer.
You’re just about ready to dig in, but what should you wash these delicious eats down with? Ditch the often carb-packed brews and sip instead on a savory grilled cocktail, better yet with a locally distilled spirit. This Smoked Ice Old Fashioned offers the familiar taste of bourbon enhanced by hints of flame and smoke.

Smoked Ice Old Fashioned

Tarnished Truth Discretion Bourbon BottleSmoked Ice

  • Water
  • One packet of Gourmet BBQ Smoke ‘Ems Wood Chips by Bear Mountain BBQ

Set the grill temperature to 225°F. As the grill preheats, fill an aluminum tray with water. Use Gourmet BBQ Smoke ‘Ems to smoke the water for 20 minutes. Transfer smoked water into ice cube trays and freeze.

Old Fashioned

  • 1 tsp. water
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • 2 oz. Discretion Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Tarnished Truth Distilling Co.
  • Smoked Ice
  • Orange peel (for garnish)

Combine water, bitters and sugar into a glass and stir until sugar dissolves. Add 2-3 Smoked Ice cubes and bourbon to the glass. Stir lightly to combine. Coat the rim with the orange peel and drop into the glass to serve.

Recipe adapted from Grill Masters Club.

Grace Silipigni Headshot
Grace Silipigni
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Grace Silipigni is an elementary school Spanish immersion teacher based in Virginia Beach and a regular contributor to Coastal Virginia Magazine, covering a wide range of topics such as health and wellness, education and learning, food and drink, happenings and events, travel and getaways and more.

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