Healthy BBQ Ideas: The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Grilling + Recipes

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By Written by Karmen. Reviewed by Sasha de Beausset, M.Sc. Food and Nutrition
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Fire up the grill and get ready to devour delicious and healthy BBQ ideas. From grilling tips to mouth-watering recipes, this ultimate guide will make your summer BBQs even healthier!

Guide to Healthy Grilling

Do you find it difficult to keep track of all the latest scientific discoveries when it comes to what is and isn’t considered healthy? Well, you aren’t the only one! There is so much information out there that it is enough to make your head spin!

Now, if you are a fan of grilled foods – and who isn’t! – you may have heard that there are pros and cons to this method of cooking. Naturally, if you are trying to lead a healthier lifestyle, you are keen to reduce the risks involved with grilling.

With help from experts such as Kristy Novak, the chef and barbecue enthusiast behind CatsHeadsBBQ, you can use tricks such as low temperatures, minimizing flare-ups, and more to avoid the issues associated with grilling.

First and foremost, though, let’s get to the bottom of things – why do some scientists say that grilling isn’t good for you?

The Downsides of Grilling

As Donavyn Coffey of EatingWell discovered, cancer risk is the main concern with grilling. The thing is when you grill meats on fire, two chemicals form – heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

HCAs are found in the char (the blackened portions) of meat. On the other hand, PAHs form when fat drippings fall onto hot coals or any heated element on your grill. When this happens, smoke forms, clinging to your meat.

These two chemicals play a role in the development of certain cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer.

This is all pretty scary stuff, but here is why you shouldn’t get too worried. First off, the results of human experiments tend to be mixed. Scientists can’t say for certain that these chemicals are responsible for cancer.

The other comforting detail is that you have to consume a significant amount of these chemicals for them to have any noticeable impact on you. This level of consumption isn’t possible with your regular old barbecue.

Of course, why take a chance with your health and life on the line? Below, you can find everything you can do to reduce your risk when grilling and barbecuing.

The Top Tips for Healthy BBQ Grilling

Here is what you need to know for a delicious yet healthy barbecue:

Use Gas or Electric Grills

Yes, yes! There is nothing quite like the taste of charcoal in your food. It adds depth and smokiness to anything you grill. Unfortunately, charcoal isn’t good for your health or the environment.

This is why you should switch to a gas or electric grill. These may not offer as much in terms of flavor, but at least you will be safer. They are also pretty easy to use and can take the hassle out of your grilling sessions.

Does this mean you have to give up your charcoal grill forever? Of course not! However, you may want to save it for special occasions. If you are someone who likes to grill frequently, you will be better off using a gas or electric grill most of the time.  

Some people also like to use toaster oven air fryers to cook healthy food.

Clean Your Grill

Remember how charring is your enemy when it comes to grilling? Well, one thing that increases the risk of charring is pieces of food stuck to your cooking grates. These are already cooked, and the next time the heat is turned on, these will burn, causing your food to char.

This is why you should always carefully clean your grate after a barbecue or before you start grilling. Pay close attention to any areas where there is a build-up of oil or food particles.

Another trick you can use is to dip a paper towel in a little bit of vegetable oil. Then, run this over each of the cooking grates. It makes the food less likely to stick to the metal. You may want to do this while grilling as well if you notice food sticking to the grates.

It is also a good idea to check out the grates between cooking batches of food. If you notice any seasoning or food stuck on the grates, you can clean it off easily.

Simply scrunch up a portion of aluminum foil and place it in between your tongs. Then, rub off the dirt and grime with a little bit of pressure.

Grill More Vegetables

Grill More Vegetables

The easiest way to avoid any health concerns is to throw more veggies on the grill! Even if you are a hardcore carnivore, you can’t deny that grilled vegetables are delicious. Still, there are some things that you can do to make grilling veggies even better.

The first thing is to opt for “meatier” vegetables. Mushrooms are the perfect example here. Portobello and King Oyster mushrooms, in particular, have a very similar texture to meat. Grill and slather on some barbecue sauce, and you will be barely able to tell the difference.

Eggplants are great for their meaty texture and are perfect on the grill as well. If you don’t mind trying something new, marinated jackfruit is a great option too.

Tofu tastes great when grilled. The trick is to marinate in a sauce before putting it on the barbecue. You can easily recreate your favorite smoky or spicy flavors with the right marinade. Also, grill each side until you notice deep and dark charred sections. By the way you should know that some spices have powerful health benefits.

If you feel like you will be missing out on flavor when grilling veggies, try tossing them in olive oil and lots of herbs and spices after you take them off the barbecue. This works especially well for grilled vegetable salads. You should have a look at our article on how to make healthy food taste good.

Choose Lean Meats

One of the things that can make grilling less than healthy is fat dripping onto the coals or grates below. To avoid this, consider barbecuing lean cuts of meat. You should consider doing this anyway as it is just a healthier option in general.

Less fat on the meat means less fat to drip down.

Fair enough, eating nothing but chicken and maybe turkey will get old after a while, so here’s an interesting option to consider – pork tenderloin! Not only is it considered lean meat, but it has far less saturated fat than beef or lamb.

Another precaution you might want to take with chicken, turkey, etc., is removing the skin. The skin contains a fair amount of fat, so removing it can solve your problem. Just remember to remove the skin before you throw the meat on the barbecue.

Marinate the Meat

Marinate the Meat

Another way that you can cut down on charring is to add moisture – but not oil – to the meat. The best way to do this is to marinate the meat for at least an hour before cooking. This also has the benefit of adding tons of flavor to your meat!

Want to make your grilled meat even healthier? Then marinate the meat in ingredients high in antioxidants, such as garlic, rosemary, onion, and even honey!

You should try this trick with leaner cuts of meat that may not have too much in the way of natural flavor. These added components will more than make up for the lack of fat on the meat.

Best of all, with so many marinades to choose from, you can guarantee that no two meals taste the same again!

Low and Slow is the Way to Go

As you are well aware, higher temperatures mean more searing and more charring. And, as we have already established, this is bad. However, grilling foods at lower temperatures doesn’t cause as many problems.

Now, turning down the temperature on your grill isn’t always the answer. As long as your food is cooking over direct heat, there is always a small risk of charring.

This is why you should consider cooking over indirect heat. Here is how to manage this with different types of grills:

  • With charcoal grills, pile all the charcoal onto one side of the grill and set these alight. Then, place your meat on the opposite side, where there is no heat directly underneath it.
  • For gas and electric grills, turn on the side burners but leave the one in the middle off. Then, place the meat over the middle burner.

Create Food Packets Out of Foil

If creating sections of direct and indirect heat sounds like too much work, then there is always the foil packet option. As the name suggests, you simply add meat and veggies onto an aluminum foil sheet, add seasonings, gather the sides of the foil and scrunch them up.

Grilling food packets is an awesome idea for a couple of different reasons. First, it is a great way to create specific portions for each person in your family. It is a wonderful trick for parties or cookouts as well.

Another reason it works so well is that it allows you to pack a lot of flavor into a small packet and let the heat do all the work.

My 5 Favorites Recipes for Healthy Grilling

Grilled Vegetable Skewers



  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into rounds
  • 1 red onion, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 eggplant, sliced into rounds
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes


  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
  2. Thread the vegetables onto the skewers, alternating colors and varieties.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Brush the mixture over the vegetables.
  4. Place the skewers on the grill and cook for 8-10 minutes, turning occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and slightly charred.
  5. Serve hot.

Grilled Fish



  • 4 skinless fish fillets (salmon, tilapia, or other)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper.
  3. Brush the mixture over both sides of the fish fillets.
  4. Place the fillets on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork.
  5. Serve hot.

BBQ Chicken Breast



  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the BBQ sauce, olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
  3. Brush the mixture over both sides of the chicken breasts.
  4. Place the chicken breasts on the grill and cook for 6-7 minutes on each side, or until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle.
  5. Serve hot.

Grilled Fruit Salad



  • 2 peaches, sliced into rounds
  • 1 pineapple, sliced into rounds
  • 1 watermelon, sliced into rounds
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • Fresh mint leaves, chopped


  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
  2. Place the fruit slices on the grill and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until slightly charred.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and lime juice.
  4. Arrange the grilled fruit on a platter and drizzle with the honey-lime dressing.
  5. Sprinkle with chopped mint leaves.
  6. Serve at room temperature.

Portobello Mushroom Burger



  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 whole wheat burger buns
  • Lettuce, tomato, avocado, for serving


  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Brush the mixture over both sides of the mushroom caps.
  4. Place the mushroom caps on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until tender and slightly charred.
  5. Serve the mushroom caps on the burger buns with lettuce, tomato, and avocado.
  6. Enjoy these healthy and delicious BBQ recipes!

Wrapping Up

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to stay safe while you continue to enjoy your healthy, grilled meals. What’s more, many of these healthy grilling tips can also help you to improve your diet overall, so it is a win-win situation all around!

Written by Karmen. Reviewed by Sasha de Beausset, M.Sc. Food and Nutrition

Sasha is a Nutritional Anthropologist with an M.Sc. in Food and Nutrition. She has been a food, nutrition, and health researcher and writer for six years and also works as an international development consultant. She is passionate about empowering people to make the best nutrition and health choices in a way that makes cultural and logical sense for each individual and community.

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