Cookouts don’t have to be pig-outs. In fact, grilling may be one of the healthiest ways you can prepare your food. “It’s a fat-reducing cooking technique, as opposed to a fat-increasing one like pan-frying or deep-frying,” says Steven Raichlen, author of Planet Barbecue! Just don’t think you can throw a giant slab of beef on your plate and lose weight. Portion control is key. “We tend to think of BBQ as a giant hunk of meat in the middle of a plate,” says Raichlen. “But Eastern cultures value finesse and flavor over belt-loosening plate size.” You should do the same. Think portion controlled proteins that are boldly flavored and paired with tons of veggies (such as thinly sliced steak in a lettuce wrap). No matter what you feel like cooking up this summer, here are some additional ways to keep it as lean and ab-friendly as possible.
Trim any visible fat around your steak before throwing it on the grill (you’ll be surprised by how many guys forget this common-sense step). When it comes to cuts of meat, beef tenderloin is the leanest. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pack much flavor. Instead, Raichlen prefers New York strip—a flavorful steak that’s relatively lean (155 calories, 5 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving). Skirt steak and sirloin are also good alternatives, but sirloin tends to get tougher as it cooks. Slicing it thinly across the grain before serving will minimize the chewiness. Another way to tenderize tough meats is to use an acid-based marinade. For a quick Mediterranean version, mix fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper, or go south of the border with an easy mix of fresh lime juice and tequila.
Simply removing the skin from chicken breasts cuts half the fat and a third of the calories. Spice up bland-tasting breasts with a traditional Indian tandoori recipe: Marinate chicken in a spicy paste of plain yogurt, vegetable oil, chopped garlic, ginger, tomato paste, diced red onion, coriander, cumin, paprika, and a pinch of salt. For a leaner burger, use ground turkey over ground beef. Mix in chilies and Southwestern spices. Just don’t go rare. You need to grill ground poultry to an internal temp of at least 170 degrees.
VEGETABLES & FRUITS
Vegetables that pack a lot of water—such as asparagus, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and onions—are ideal for the grill. The moisture content helps the veggies withstand high temps without drying them out. You could also skewer them onto kabobs or wrap them in aluminum foil with a little low-sodium chicken stock and a few of your favorite spices. For dessert, grill apples dusted with cinnamon, or halved peaches and pears topped with a small amount of honey or agave, over a low flame. “A mix of honey and Greek yogurt makes a great protein-packed dipping sauce for fruit,” says MF nutrition adviser Jim White, R.D.
Opt for any cut with the word “loin” in its name. “ Pork tenderloin is the leanest cut of pork,” White says. “It’s as lean as skinless chicken breast.” For a less fatty alternative to baby back or spare ribs, Raichlen recommends country-style ribs. Coat them with a traditional BBQ dry rub (sea salt, brown sugar, paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and celery seed). Throw a handful of wood chips into the coals, then grill the ribs directly over the embers.
Fish is an excellent source of protein and healthy fats ( omega-3s and omega-6s). Just be sure to remove the scales and the layer of fat directly under the skin before grilling. Shrimp and scallops are also top low-calorie options since both are high in protein and contain virtually no fat or carbs. Seafood is obviously versatile and can easily be prepped for the grill in a variety of ways. Try marinading a fresh fillet in olive oil and garlic or sea salt, lemon juice, and oregano. Or throw together something with more of a kick, such as a rub of cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, oregano, thyme, and a little salt. You can even use a lowfat Italian dressing as a marinade—just watch to make sure you’re not picking one that’s loaded with sodium. (Meatier fish can be cooked directly on a grill that’s been brushed with olive oil. More delicate seafood should be wrapped in foil.)