Tuesday, September 20, 2011

American Barbecue: Delicious AND Nutritious?

Summer has come to a close, but in many regions of the country, it is still warm enough to host one more outdoor barbecue.  It doesn’t take a nutritionist to discern that most barbecue fare is not traditionally seen as the picture of health.  Creamy coleslaw, buttery cornbread, cheesy macaroni, and fatty meats come to mind when most diners picture this beloved culinary treasure.

Don’t get me wrong, I love barbecue.  I really do.  I love it so much that I refuse to accept it’s bad reputation for expanding summer waistlines.  Instead, it is my heartfelt contention that barbecue is actually one of the easiest cuisines to modify to be healthier without sacrificing the taste or experience of the original. 

For one thing, barbecuing is, by nature, a very healthy way to prepare food.  The dry heat means that no oil or butter is required, and marinades and spice rubs can take center stage for flavoring the food.

For those who are gluten intolerant, barbecue is a great option.  With the exception of bread, most traditional barbecue dishes are meat or vegetable based, which is good for the carb counters out there, too.

Here are some other tips for preparing a healthier homestyle meal:

·       Choose leaner cuts of meat, and remove the skin when possible.  Rotisserie chicken is a great option with the skin removed, as it retains its full flavor.  Skinless breasts and thighs are another smart poultry choice.  When cooking ribs, choose baby back over spare ribs, as they are leaner and just as tasty.  Center-cut pork chops and lean cuts of red meat, like skirt steak, are all protein-packed, lower fat options.
·       Be carb-conscious.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to forgo carbohydrates completely in the name of health.  I will, however, entertain the idea of a baked potato instead of potato salad, or a pasta salad instead of macaroni and cheese.  These swaps are simple and still satisfying.
·       Be your own BBQ.  Many bottled barbecue sauces are full of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup.  Consider creating your own house recipe with less sugar and more spices, and it could become your signature sauce.
·       Watch the extras.  Coleslaw itself is not a dietary disaster; it’s the mayonnaise often found as the coleslaw base.  Try a vinegar-based version and get all the crunchy satisfaction without the extra calories and fat.
·       Look again.  Certain classic barbecue dishes get a bad rap for no reason.  The first example that comes to mind is baked beans.  Sure, the combination of brown sugar and molasses is not ideal, but these indulgences are balanced by all the protein, fiber, and antioxidants in the beans.
·       Veggies.  Fruit.  More veggies.  Another feature of homestyle cuisine that often gets overlooked is the overwhelming options for incorporating produce!  What could be healthier than that?  The best part is that so many of your barbecue favorites already fall into this category and you don’t even realize it.  How about some grilled corn on the cob with salt and pepper?  Or perhaps some fresh-cut chunks of watermelon for dessert?  Don’t forget the classic southern dish of collard greens, which are essentially one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat.  For vegetarians and omnivores alike, make a substantial main course by stacking vegetable chunks on a kabob and grilling them as you would grill the meat.

Classic barbecue dishes are a national treasure and should be enjoyed by those who want it.  The beauty is that as with almost every cuisine, with just a few small tweaks, barbecue can also be served to even the most health conscious diner.      

Now what are you waiting for?  Get grillin’!


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