Strategies and Recipes for Healthy Grilling and Smoking

Smoked shrimp

Photo by Rob Baas.

Whether you’ve resolved to shed a few pounds picked up during the holidays or have committed to making lasting lifestyle changes, your grill or smoker can be an invaluable ally.

We know what you’re thinking—that some of barbecue’s most ardent practitioners are more Buddha-like than buff, that the only thing “shredded” at their table is the pulled pork. (We watch BBQ Pitmasters, too.) But chalk that up to overindulgence or bad genes.

The truth is, live fire cooking is actually one of the healthiest cooking methods around: unlike frying or sautéing, food doesn’t require the addition of oil or butter or other fats. Grilling and smoking help vegetables retain antioxidants and nutrients that are lost when they’re boiled, poached, or braised. Finally, the naturally occurring fats in meat and other proteins melt out and drip away from the food as it cooks. (For example, research conducted by the magazine Cooking Light found that a 4-ounce burger made of 80/20 ground beef lost 33 percent of its fat when flame-grilled.)

More importantly, because food cooked over live fire not only looks more appetizing, but tastes better, too, you’ll be more likely to keep your New Year’s resolution to eat more thoughtfully.

You may not know that Steven wrote several cookbooks devoted to healthy low-fat cooking before he became known for grilling and smoking. Bold and Healthy Flavors: 450 Recipes from Around the World is one of my favorites and will be released in the Kindle edition on January 31. It is being presold here and is also available in paperback.

Steven’s stepdaughter, Betsy Berthin, is a dietician for the Miami Heat basketball team; she keeps the team and the family on the dietary straight and narrow. To learn more or subscribe to her free newsletter, go to A meal at the Raichlen table is likely to include grilled Key West shrimp or line-caught swordfish, smoke-roasted cherry tomatoes, and a big green salad.

Here are our strategies and recipe ideas for leaner, meaner grilling. By the way, if you don’t have access to an outdoor grill, check out Indoor Grilling. You’ll find many recipes for grill pans, panini grills, even fireplace cooking.

Direct grill leaner meats like chicken breast, turkey tenderloin, shrimp, scallops, fish steaks or fillets, chicken or turkey sliders (add finely chopped mushrooms to keep them extra moist), pork tenderloin, venison, elk, tri-tip, flank steak, filets mignon, satés, kebabs, or fish steaks or fillets. (Turn the latter into fish tacos by topping flaked fish such as cod or monkfish with shredded cabbage, pickled jalapeños, ember-roasted salsa, and lime wedges.) Yes, we even have chicken parmesan for you—dramatically lower in fat than the traditional version because it’s grilled, not deep-fried.

Indirect grill or spit-roast turkey breasts, whole chickens, game hens, pork loin, and whole fish. Dense vegetables and fruits can also be cooked this way—onions, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, winter squash, apples, and pears. Grill rings will keep them from tipping. Indirect grilling keeps the fat from dripping directly on the fire, reducing the risk of carcinogens rising in the smoke.

Use rubs, marinades, and wood smoke instead of fat to add flavor and moisture to food. This recipe is aptly named “The Only Marinade You’ll Ever Need.”

Thai Grilled Beef Salad

Let vegetables play the principal role by reducing the overall percentage of meat in a dish, as they do in Asia. For example, a modest amount of sliced grilled skirt steak or flank steak tops an explosively flavorful platter of vegetables in Steven’s Thai Grilled Beef Salad. The meat serves almost as a condiment, as it does in Korean Bool Kogi–the latter eaten like a fajita, but using lettuce leaves instead of carb-laden tortillas. For an even greater fat reduction, use lean chicken, pork, or tuna in place of the beef. Smoke-roast large baking potatoes and serve them with Ember-Roasted Salsa. Or slice two “steaks” from the center of a head of cauliflower, cutting from the top to the core. (Reserve the remaining cauliflower for another use.) Brush them with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper or your favorite rub. Grill over a moderate fire until tender, then top with your favorite vinaigrette. Grilled vegetables was one of the popular trends Steven called out for 2017.

Cook everything from appetizers to dessert on the grill. Smoke eggs for protein-packed appetizers. Prepare Smoked Tomato Corn Salsa and serve with baked tortilla chips. Cold-smoke or hot-smoke salmon or other fish and serve with the usual condiments (chopped hard-cooked egg, chopped red onion, brined capers, crackers or toast). Stay away from fatty meats—stay away from “fatties,” period!—like pork shoulder, brisket, ribs, duck, liver, cured meats like ham and bologna, etc. And don’t leave out dessert. Lightly brush sliced angel food cake with melted butter, grill, and top with sweetened fresh berries. (This is a very popular dessert at Barbecue University.) Or brush a whole peeled pineapple with pineapple juice or unsweetened coconut milk, crust it with turbinado sugar and a pinch each of ground cinnamon and clove, and roast it on the rotisserie until the sugar begins to caramelize. If you don’t own a rotisserie, simply slice the pineapple into rounds and direct grill.

But temper this advice with the word of Steven’s mentor, the great Julia Child: “moderation.” She’d also add “pleasure,” as food first and foremost should be about enjoying a meal with your family and friends.

Do you have tricks for healthier grilling? Please share them with us on Facebook or the Barbecue Board.

The Best Beef Sates in Singapore
Grilled Chicken Parmesan
The Only Marinade You’ll Ever Need
Thai Grilled Beef Salad
Bool Kogi (Korean Sesame Grilled Beef)
Ember-Roasted Salsa
Smoked Tomato Salsa