Summer Barbecue Recipe Makeovers

Make your barbecue menu healthier, from finger foods to dessert.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

Memorial Day is so much more than a three-day weekend. Formally, and most importantly, it's a day to remember all the people who gave their lives defending our nation. (Interestingly, Memorial Day was proclaimed in the 1800s, before both world wars were fought.) Informally, though, Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer - and the barbecue season. And that's where I come in.

Nothing says summer like barbecues featuring burgers, mayo-drenched salads, chips and dip, and colorful cakes. But from finger foods to dessert, there are ways to lighten up barbecue offerings without changing the featured foods and how much we enjoy them.

Lighter Barbecue Appetizers

There are plenty of light alternatives to potato and tortilla chips. Experiment until you find a brand you like.

A fresh-style salsa is better for you than a mayo-based dip, of course. But if you go the creamy dip route, substitute fat-free sour cream for the real thing, and use a mixture of fat-free sour cream and light mayonnaise in place of real mayonnaise. It works every time! Keep creamy dips cool by placing the dip bowl in a slightly bigger bowl that is 2/3 filled with crushed ice.

If an appetizer is fried, nine times out of 10 you can get away with oven-frying it. This dramatically reduces the amount of oil the food picks up. For an example, check out the Oven Fried Blue Cheese Olives recipe below.

Also consider super-healthy appetizers like fresh fruit and vegetable platters. Fresh fruit is plentiful this time of year, so enjoy strawberries, grapes, or cut-up melon. Vegetable platters are easy to pull together using baby carrots, sugar snap peas, broccoli and cauliflower florets, zucchini sticks, and cherry tomatoes.

Experience has taught me that people really do eat them. Put fruits and vegetables out there on the table, make them look good, and bada-boom, bada-bing -- they will disappear.

Lighter Barbecue Salads

Macaroni salad, potato salad, coleslaw, green salad ... name your salad, and it probably involves a jar of mayonnaise. I'll make this easy for you. If the recipe calls for a cup of mayo, blend 1/2 cup of light mayonnaise with 1/2 cup of fat-free sour cream instead, and you've just cut the fat by 75%.

If the recipe calls for a bottled salad dressing, find one that is lighter (with around 6 grams of fat per 2 tablespoon serving) and tastes good, and you'll be doing everyone a big favor. If your recipe calls for pasta, switch to a whole-wheat blend or 100% whole-wheat pasta.

To boost nutrients in your green salad, use a darker green lettuce (like romaine). And add plenty of colorful vegetables like cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, chopped carrots, etc.

Lighter Barbecue Meats

Go for lighter and leaner cuts, whether you are grilling beef, pork, or poultry. Then, the trick is keeping them lean by marinating it or serving it with a lower-fat, lower-calorie sauce/marinade.

Make hamburgers with an extra-lean ground beef. When grilling steak, look for the cuts with more red and less white (like top sirloin, top round, chateaubriand, and filet mignon). For pork, one of the leanest bets is the tenderloin (see recipe below). When grilling pork chops, use center-cut chops and trim any visible fat.

Take the skin off the chicken before you marinate and cook it. Or choose seafood in addition to or instead of your typical grilled meat fare.

Lighter Barbecue Desserts

Ice cream is often part of summer barbecues, so look for light ice cream options -- they are there, and they are good!

For cakes or brownies made from mixes, remember that you usually don't have to add the oil or butter called for (the mix already contains around 3 or 4 grams of fat per serving). Substitute something lighter, like fat-free sour cream, yogurt, strong coffee, or fruit juice, for the fat. (See the recipe below for Coconut Cream Cake.)

Summer Barbecue Recipe Makeovers

Here are four recipes perfect for summer barbecues, each lightened up.

Oven Fried Blue Cheese Olives

Instead of filling the center with blue cheese, we're using a mixture of blue cheese and light cream cheese. And instead of deep frying the olives, we're coating them with canola cooking spray and baking in a hot oven.

15-ounce can jumbo pitted black olives, drained well on paper towels
1 1/2 ounces blue cheese
2 tablespoons light cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup egg substitute
1 cup Italian-style dry bread crumbs
Canola cooking spray

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9x9-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray. Add blue cheese, light cream cheese and black pepper to a small bowl and blend well with a fork. Using your fingers or a pastry bag, fill each olive with the blue cheese mixture.
  • Add egg substitute to a custard cup. Add breadcrumbs to a shallow bowl. Dip olives in the egg mixture then roll in the breadcrumbs to coat well. Place olives in prepared dish and coat the top with canola cooking spray.
  • Bake in center of oven for 12-13 minutes or until golden brown. Let them cool, and then serve.