Though I’m definitely an advocate for establishing some sort of summer schedule, there’s nothing quite like those long, lazy summer nights. The kids running around while you put your feet up, the smell of a delicious healthy BBQ cooking on the grill… ahhh, what could be better?! 

Well, it turns out there are ways to make those summer barbecues a little bit better—by making them even healthier. In this post you’ll find my top healthy BBQ ideas. 

Healthy BBQ Tip #1: Use Organic Charcoal

Unlike the charcoal you use for making your teeth white, the standard charcoal used for grilling almost always includes chemicals and nitrates like anthracite coal, treated wood or sawdust, petroleum, sodium nitrate, and borax. That is NOT what you want cooking into your food! To avoid exposure to these yucky additives, choose a natural charcoal. Try this 100 percent natural lump charcoal by Big Green Egg. It’s made with American oak and hickory wood, is easy to light, and heats up in just 10 minutes.

Healthy BBQ Tip #2: Never Clean the Grill With a Wire Brush

Wire brushes are great for getting rid of stuck-on food, but they can be very dangerous. Little pieces of wire from the brush can break off and get stuck in your food. If you ingest these little pieces of metal, it can cause a medical emergency. And it’s not as rare as you might think—researchers estimate there are about 130 cases per year in the United States. Try a heavy-duty sponge, a brush made of natural fibers, or a wooden scraper instead.

Healthy BBQ Tip #3: Swap Processed Meats for Clean Proteins

There are so many reasons to skip hot dogs—they are full of nitrates and have been linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes and just one hot dog has a quarter of the maximum daily recommendation for sodium! If you’re serving hamburgers, make sure to use grass-fed beef. However, to shake up your healthy BBQ, the best choices are low mercury fish (salmon, trout, and mackerel are all great options!) and marinated chicken breast and turkey burgers are always a nice change of pace! 

Healthy BBQ Tip #4: Marinate Your Food

Marinating your food not only makes it taste great, but it also may help reduce carcinogens caused by grilling. Seriously! One study found that marinades that contain thyme, sage, and garlic reduced the amount of carcinogens in food by as much as 88 percent. Another study found that rosemary has similar benefits—this herb reduced carcinogens by up to 90 percent. And marinating beef in beer or wine for six hours may have similar effects. Another study found that this can reduce the amount of carcinogens by up to 40 percent.

Try these delicious marinades:

Rosemary, Thyme, Garlic, and Lemon

Lemon and Herb

Honey Garlic



Healthy BBQ Tip #5: Flip Frequently

A study published in the Journal of Food Protection found that flipping burgers every 30 seconds was most effective in reducing E. coli. Another study found that, when combined with low-heat cooking, frequent flipping also reduced the level of carcinogens in food. Though these studies were specific to burgers, it may be worth cooking other meat this way, too.

Healthy BBQ Tip #6: Use Better Buns

Wrap burgers or grilled chicken in Swiss chard to up your intake of vitamins K, A, and C, magnesium, potassium, iron, and fiber. Kale, green cabbage, and lettuce are other great options.

If the bun is your favorite part, you can still have a healthy BBQ by using sprouted buns.

Healthy BBQ Tip #7: Make Your Own Condiments

Most store-bought condiments, like barbecue sauce and ketchup, are loaded with added sugar and yucky preservatives. Your best bet is to make your own. Try these homemade recipes for a healthy BBQ:


Barbecue Sauce

Honey Mustard


If you prefer to use store-bought, try these products for a healthy BBQ:


Barbecue Sauce



Healthy BBQ Tip #8: Opt for Healthier Sides

Conventional potato salad, macaroni salad, and mayo-based coleslaws all have one thing in common: They’re full of bad oils and sugars. But skipping out on these heavy options don’t have to mean sacrificing taste. Instead try foods that are just as flavorful, but way healthier. Try these recipes for a healthy BBQ instead:

Instead of traditional potato salad, try Green Bean, Potato, and Tarragon Salad

Instead of creamy coleslaw, try Summer Coleslaw

Other great options include homemade sauerkraut, fermented salsa, grilled portobello mushrooms, and organic corn on the cob (if you can find it!).

If you’re serving any dips with your meal, swap chips for raw veggies—they provide the same crunch, but don’t have any of the preservatives, fat, or extra calories. (If you want healthy chips, try Jackson’s Honest Chips or any potato chips cooked in olive oil, usually available at heath food stores or Trader Joe’s.)

Healthy BBQ Tip #9: Grill Dessert

Skipping cookies, cupcakes, brownies, and other sweat treats doesn’t have to leave you wanting more. Once the main course is finished, try grilling pineapple or stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, and plums). YUM!

How About You?

What tips do you have for other readers? Share your best healthy BBQ ideas below.