What Makes Cookouts Unhealthy? Learn Healthy Alternatives.

As we head into summer, you’re probably going to be attending or maybe even hosting quite a few cookouts. Unfortunately, as you probably know, cookouts aren’t generally the healthiest places to eat.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case and by being a little creative you can enjoy a healthy cookout. In this article I take a deeper look at five of the main things that make cookouts unhealthy and provide some healthy alternatives for each of the five.

1) Overcooked Meats

Why Are Overcooked Meats So Unhealthy?:- If you’ve got some experience with cookouts then you’ve probably seen firsthand just how burnt some of the meats get. Not only does this make them taste bad but the high heats also cause the dangerous, carcinogenic compounds – heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form in the meats.

How Can You Avoid Overcooked Meats?:- Avoiding overcooked meats is relatively simple and all you need to do is follow three easy steps. First, make sure you don’t grill the meats on a full flame. Instead, wait for the grill to burn for a few minutes and for the flames to reduce before adding the meat. Secondly, reduce the cooking time for your meats.

The less time they spend on the grill, the less time there is for HCAs to form and as an added bonus, they are also much less likely to get burned. Finally, marinate the meats for a few hours before grilling, in a marinade that includes antioxidant rich herbs such as basil, marjoram, rosemary and thyme. Also, if you’re cooking chicken, ribs or pork, try some nationally award winning Apple, Cherry or Red Raspberry Barbecue sauce.

Studies have shown that herbs which are high in antioxidants do a great job of combatting HCAs and they also make your meats much tastier.

2) Processed Meats

Why Are Processed Meats So Unhealthy?:- Processed meats such as hamburgers and sausages are a staple part of almost any cookout. Unfortunately, they are also very low in quality and often contain a lot more fat and sugar than their natural counterparts.

In addition to this, they have far fewer nutrients than natural meats and are often much higher in calories. For example, an average hamburger contains 250 calories per 100g while an average beef fillet steak contains around 200 calories per 100g – a difference of 50 calories or 20%.

What Are Some Healthy Alternatives To Processed Meats?:- When prepared in the right way, natural meats can be just as tasty and satisfying as processed meats. They are also much more nutritious and generally lower in calories than the processed options.

Simply pick your favorite meat (beef, chicken, lamb and pork are all excellent choices that each have their own distinct flavor), throw it on the grill and enjoy. To maximize the taste of your chosen meat, you can also create a healthy, antioxidant rich marinade or nationally award winning and all-natural barbecue sauce as discussed above.

3) White Bread

Why Is White Bread So Unhealthy?:- White bread is something that gets eaten with almost every hamburger and sausage at a cookout. Unfortunately, although you might enjoy the taste and texture, white bread contains a relatively large amount of carbohydrates and very little else.

For example, an average white hamburger roll contains over 100 calories and more than 80% of these calories are carbohydrates. If these extra carbohydrate calories aren’t used by your body, they get stored as body fat and if you attend a few cookouts over the summer, all this extra white bread can quickly lead to weight gain.

What Are Some Healthy Alternatives To White Bread?:- Whole grain bread is a healthier alternative to white bread and generally contains extra fiber and other nutrients. However, it still contains a similar amount of calories and if you eat too much it can cause you to gain weight.

Therefore, the best alternative is to avoid bread completely and instead go for a combination of fresh meat and vegetables. Meat and vegetable kebabs or grilled meat with salad are both brilliant options that are relatively low in carbohydrates and much more nutritious than bread.

4) Processed Condiments

Why Are Processed Condiments So Unhealthy?:- Meat and bread aren’t the only things to watch out for at cookouts. Processed condiments such as barbecue sauce, mayonnaise or tomato ketchup are loaded with sugars and unhealthy fats and can do some serious damage to your waistline.

Both barbecue sauce and tomato ketchup contain an average of 25 calories per tablespoon while mayonnaise contains a whopping 50 calories per tablespoon. While this might not sound like much, just a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise at each cookout adds 100 unnecessary calories to your day and over the course of summer this can really mount up.

What Are Some Healthy Alternatives To Processed Condiments?:- Like with processed meats, the healthiest alternative to processed condiments is going natural. There are many healthy, natural condiments you can make but one of the quickest and easiest is salsa.

Simply take a can of chopped tomatoes, half of can of tomato paste, one finely chopped jalapeno pepper (you can use more or less depending on how well you handle spiciness) and a selection of your favorite herbs and spices (I find one teaspoon of basil, one teaspoon of black pepper, one teaspoon of rosemary, one teaspoon of thyme and one teaspoon of salt works well).

Then add it all to a saucepan, stir the ingredients well, place the saucepan on a medium to high heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, pour the salsa mix into a large bowl, leave it to cool and enjoy.

This recipe will provide you with around 15 servings, so if you need more or less, simply adjust the amount of ingredients you use. The best part is the herbs, spices, chopped tomatoes and jalapeno pepper provide you with many more nutrients than you get from processed condiments.

In addition to this, at 9 calories per serving, this healthy salsa contains less than half the calories in processed barbecue sauce or tomato ketchup and less than a quarter of the calories in processed mayonnaise.

Finally consider enjoy bread and butter pickles or cinnamon pickled baby beets. The are all natural and low in sugar and calories.

5) Beer

Why Is Beer So Unhealthy?:- If you’re not careful, the beer that you drink at a cookout can add just as many calories as the foods you eat. For example, one 12 ounce bottle of Budweiser comes in at 145 calories.

Supping just a couple of these at each cookout adds almost 300 calories to your day and if you go to cookouts regularly over summer, the amount of beer calories you consume can easily rack up into the thousands.

What Are Some Healthy Alternatives To Beer?:- The healthiest alternative to beer is to avoid alcohol completely and drink zero calorie water. Or, simply enjoy a refreshing glass of cherry juice. Not only does it taste great, it is also a leading source of natural anti-oxidants.

However, if you still want to enjoy a couple of cold beers when you head to cookouts, light beers are a viable option and on average contain 30% less calories than regular beers which represents a significant reduction.


When it comes to health, cookouts can be a potential minefield. A couple of burgers with bread with generous amounts of condiments plus a couple of beers can easily take you over the 1,000 calorie mark and that’s before we even get into the increased risk of cancer from overcooked meats.

However, if you follow the advice in this article, you can seriously slash the amount of calories you consume and protect yourself against the cancer causing HCAs in grilled meats, while still having a great time. So next time you get invited to a cookout, marinate some of your favorite meats, prepare a healthy homemade condiment, stock up on your favorite light beer, ditch the bread in favor of vegetables and get ready for your healthiest cookout to date.

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