8 Foods You Should Never, Ever Eat at a BBQ

Updated: May 28, 2021

Heading to a cookout? For the sake of saving yourself tummy troubles (and the extra calories), avoid these not-as-good-for-you eats.

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A monster burger

Hamburgers aren’t the enemy, but ones the size of your head, are. If hosting your own cookout, choose a leaner ground beef mix and carefully measure out patty sizes (try Cusinart’s burger press, which helps you easily create perfectly portioned disks) to ensure you’re not overdoing it. “I like a 75 percent lean 25 percent fat beef mix, which delivers a lot of flavor and stays moist. If you go any lower, it can sometimes get chalky,” says Jens Dahlmann, corporate executive chef for LongHorn Steakhouse and vice president of culinary development. You can also play around with other leaner proteins, like lamb, bison, or turkey (try Jennie-O’s ground turkey or pre-formed patty options); just be careful not to over-grill them, since the leaner the cut, the easier it is to overcook and be left with tough meat. “Beef is the king of burgers, but lamb is a better-for-you red meat and has a lot of flavor to it. Pair it with some tomato, red onion, cucumber, and a little bit of feta and it’s very simple but satisfying,” he says.

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Creamy salads

Traditional potato and macaroni salads can spoil easily under the hot sun, making them a hot bed for food poisoning. If you’re hosting and salads are your weakness, make a lighter version using mostly low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with just a little mayo and lots of fresh herbs for added flavor; load up the salad with fresh diced veggies like cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, spinach, or anything else you like. “Adding in more veggies means you’ll get some with each bite,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist. You can also try using sweet potatoes instead of white for more fiber, potassium, and vitamin A, or opt for whole wheat or high protein noodles (try Banza, a chickpea pasta, or POW! pasta by Ancient Harvest, noodles made with beans and ancient grains) for some nutrients with your carbs. Don’t miss the foods likely to give you food poisoning this summer.


Solo sausage links

Sausage lovers know that it’s not hard to gobble up more than one delicious link. Unfortunately, that also means you’re likely ingesting way more processed meat and salt than is healthy. Instead, slice up sausage and grill it on a skewer with a few veggie chunks (onions, peppers, or zucchini grill up beautifully) sandwiched between the meat. “Skewers are a built-in way to add extra veggies while pumping up the fiber,” says Moore. You can also choose better-for-you sausages, like turkey or chicken (try Applegate Farms’ chicken and turkey sausages), which tend to be lower in fat.

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Meat covered in barbecue sauce

Drenching chicken or ribs in barbecue sauce sure tastes like summer, but it can often come with an oversized side of hidden sugar. “Grilling is a great way to avoid extra calories from fat, so why make up the difference by slathering sugary BBQ sauce on all your meats,” says Libby Mills, RD, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Opt for a rub of cumin, chopped chipotle pepper, onion powder, chopped cilantro, and orange zest. Plan on two tablespoons of rub per pound of meat.” If you just can’t part with your beloved sauce, try making your own so you can closely monitor and adjust how much sugar and salt you’re adding. You can also go for the effortless option by looking for a pre-seasoned lean meat that isn’t too high in salt or sugar, like Hormel Always Tender pork loins. Be sure you’re not making these grilling mistakes even seasoned BBQ cooks can make.

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Steak with visible fat

The best tasting steak is usually a cut that’s nicely marbled, but that sought-after marbling also means it’s higher in fat. Pick a leaner cut, like beef tenderloin or sirloin, and bring out the flavor by seasoning with just a little salt, pepper, and lemon juice after you grill instead of before. “Sprinkle a bit of sea salt, cracked black pepper, and freshly squeezed lemon juice over the top as soon as you’re finished,” says Dahlmann. You can also opt for a bare pre-grill seasoning job and sprinkle a light dusting of finishing salt over the top when the meat comes off; though pricier than ordinary or sea salt, it’ll enhance the flavor of the meat without extra sodium or other flavoring cals (try Evolution Salt Co., which sells regular Himalayan finishing salt and blends specific to the type of protein you’re cooking). Here are the food poisoning myths you can safely ignore.

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Heavily marinated meat

If you see a pan of meat swimming in marinade, steer clear. Many marinades are high in fat, salt, and sugar. For bottled marinades, look for something that’s low in the aforementioned unhealthy ingredients, like The New Primal. If making your own, choose extra virgin olive oil, filled with healthy fats. Instead of soaking the meat overnight, poke a few small holes in it and let it sit for an hour or two; just enough marinade will seep in to flavor it, but not so much that you bust your diet on flavoring alone. “Olive oil, citrus juice, garlic, and fresh herbs are an easy way to marinate meat without overdoing the sugar or salt,” says Dahlmann. If you’re slow-grilling a big cut of meat, like a whole chicken, turkey, or pork, consider injecting it with a simple brine (a little salt, sugar, water, and citrus juice) or a mix of apple juice and apple cider vinegar. “It will penetrate the center of a large protein without a lot of calories,” says Dahlmann. “Orange or lemon will give a nice balance of flavor to a lighter brine where you don’t use as much salt and sugar.” Check out these fool-proof guide to grilling chicken, steak, and everything else.

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Chips and dip

A small handful of potato chips are fine, but once you start munching it’s sometimes hard to stop, especially with creamy dips on hand to smother them in. If you see a vegetable platter nearby, fill most of your plate with those and just a small dollop of dip. If hosting, make your favorite dip with low-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or buying it pre-made. Just be mindful of how long they’ve sat in the sun and consider moving them inside once the meat starts coming off the grill. Swap out traditional potato chips for sweet potato chips for a little nutrient boost, or have snacks that don’t require dip, like Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers or Van’s Whole Grain Crackers, which come in flavors like ranch, pepper jack, and more. And, be sure to offer some cut veggies for dipping to further tame your salty tooth. (You can also make these baked veggie chips a healthier alternative.)


Too many dessert items

Though tempting, sampling every cookie, brownie, or pie is a big no-no if you’re watching your waistline. “Opt for grilled fruit like peaches, pineapple, or plums in lieu of rich desserts,” says Mills. If that’s not an option, choose your favorite dessert item and eat just one. If you’re throwing the bash and want to impress, make a DIY ice cream bar with a low calorie ice cream like Halo Top and nutrient-rich banana slices, chopped nuts filled with heart-healthy fats, sprinkles, antioxidant-packed dark chocolate pieces, fresh cherries instead of sugary maraschino, and whipped cream to pile on top. A mixed fruit salad without extra sugar is also a healthy dessert choice.

Don’t miss these golden rules for a healthy barbeque season all summer long.