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Barbecue—The New Health Food?!

Photo credit: Reprinted from The Barbecue! Bible. Photo copyright © Ben Fink.

Barbecue—the new health food. Sounds like an oxymoron (if not heresy). Yet, travelling 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.

A lot of us have made resolutions to shed a few pounds in the wake of New Year’s. As for the best way to do this, I have four simple words for you: fire up your grill.

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.

Besides, Betsy is watching. That would be my stepdaughter, who serves as dietician for the Miami Heat basketball team. (You wouldn’t believe the texts she receives before a game.) Betsy doesn’t believe in diets (hallelujah!), but she does believe that small changes in your daily cooking and eating habits can result in huge changes in your overall heath. (Get more of her excellent advice here).

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.

  • Skip pan-frying, deep-frying, and sautéing and grill proteins over live fire. The high, dry heat of the grill intensifies the flavor of meats, seafood, and vegetables—without added fat.
  • Eat less meat, but better meat. Grass-fed beef. Heritage breed pork. Organic air-chilled poultry. Dry-aged steak. Wild seafood instead of farmed. Not only does it taste better—it’s better for you.
  • Use grilled meat sparingly as a condiment and pair it with plentiful grilled vegetables and plant foods. That’s what Asians do and their barbecue is some of the best on the planet.
  • Hot-smoke fresh, wild salmon for a high-protein, low-fat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Cured, brined, or smoked without seasoning, it still roars with flavor.
  • Shish kebab is a great way to pair meat with vegetables, eating more of the latter and less of the former. Skewer combinations of ingredients that cook at roughly the same rate on each skewer: meat, onions, and peppers, yes. Meat and tomatoes, no, as the tomatoes will collapse before the meat is properly cooked. You can, of course, skewer the meat and vegetables separately.
  • For a killer appetizer, make salsa with smoke-roasted or ember-charred tomatoes, onions, and chiles. Serve grilled tortillas for dipping.
  • Indirect grill dense root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, yams, beets and rutabagas in a foil pan on a charcoal grill fueled with wood chips for wood smoke. Toss the veggies with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.
  • Use fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil, not melted butter, for basting. Drizzle a little on at the end, like a sauce. (Hey, that’s how Tuscans season their steak.)
  • Grill boneless skinless chicken breasts during the weekend for low-fat weekday meals. Great to have on hand for sandwiches, salads, etc.
  • If you do use butter (all things in moderation, maintained Julia Child), brush it on just before serving. That way, it will be the first thing you taste.
  • Skip sugary, high-fat desserts and end your meal with chargrilled fruit like pineapple slices, peach halves, or ripe pears. Toast lightly buttered slices of angel food cake on the grill and serve with fresh berry “salsa.”

Want to try all the recipes in this post? This list will get you started:

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