Throw some salmon on the grill for a heart-healthy barbecue dish.
Summer barbecue season is here, and that’s good news for fans of the ketogenic diet. Why? Because so many keto-friendly foods are also barbecue staples. Think: bunless burgers, grilled fish, and veggie-loaded sides.
That means if you’re on the ketogenic diet or are just trying to eat low-carb, you don’t have to miss out on any of the barbecue fun.
“Most of the protein-rich meats and poultry served at barbecues will keep you compliant to the keto diet; but you do want to be cautious with marinades and sauces, as some may have sugar and other carbohydrate-containing ingredients,” says Kristen Smith, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who is based in Atlanta.
You can also enjoy side dishes too, especially if you make some strategic swaps. Smith offers some examples: “Some traditional barbecue sides made with potatoes can be made with cauliflower instead, and you can make a salad or other side dish with dark, leafy green vegetables to stick with your keto plan.”
What Makes a Meal Keto-Friendly?
If you’re unsure what to put on your plate at a barbecue — or what recipe to choose for your next cookout — here’s what you need to know: Many people on the ketogenic diet try to stay between 20 and 50 grams (g) of net carbs for the day. What does the “net” in net carbs mean? In this case, you would take the carbohydrate tally for the meal and subtract the fiber and any sugar alcohols to get the net carb number, according to Atkins.com. The reason people use net carbs for calculations when on low-carb diets such as keto, per Atkins, is that these are the type of carbs that most significantly affect blood sugar levels.
By the way, U.S. government agencies like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services don’t recognize net carbs as a macronutrient like total carbs, protein, and fat. Net carbs is a term associated with fad diets such as keto and Atkins.
While 50 g of net carbs might sound like a lot, many healthy foods actually contain a high number of carbs and thus aren’t allowed on keto. For example, one medium peach has about 12 g net carbs, while a medium ear of corn has 17 g net carbs, based on carb totals via the USDA.
Following the keto diet, by keeping your net carbs low and eating a diet that’s high in fat with moderate protein, hypothetically may lower your insulin levels and prevent fat accumulation, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The mechanism behind keto is a metabolic state called ketosis. This happens when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to produce energy, so in order to keep your central nervous system functioning, your liver produces “ketone bodies” from fatty acids.
Who Is Keto a Good Fit For?
The short answer is that keto is not for everyone. If you’re new to the diet, and especially if you’re managing an underlying condition or are on any medications, talk to your healthcare team before diving in. Research on keto benefits is underway, as experts observe that many people are trying the popular diet for weight loss, but keep your expectations in check if you’re one of them.
“For most individuals trying to lose weight, I am not a huge proponent of the ketogenic diet — many of my clients have tried it in the past and found it difficult to follow for the long-term,” Smith says.
Also, be aware that the keto diet can cause side effects including nutrient deficiencies, constipation, and fatigue, notes Harvard. Keto also has long-term health risks, such as an increased risk of gout and kidney stones, the university notes. Some of the symptoms keto newbies experience are collectively referred to as “the keto flu.”
Suffice it to say, keeping on track with keto can be challenging in more ways than one. Before you turn on the grill this summer, keep these nutritious and keto-friendly recipe ideas in mind.1
Cumin Rubbed Grilled Lamb Chops With Mint Chimichurri
Yes, you could grill steak this summer, but why not kick things up a notch with some lamb chops? “Grilled lamb chops rubbed with simple spices and served with an herb- and oil-based mint chimichurri are low in carbs but so full of flavor,” says Kaleigh McMordie, RDN, a registered dietitian in Lubbock, Texas, and the founder of Lively Table, where McMordie shared her recipe.
Not only does a medium lamb chop (about 5 ounces [oz]) have 0 g net carbs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but you also score almost 18.5 g of protein. Plus, per the USDA, you’ll get nutrients such as B12, niacin, zinc, selenium, iron, and riboflavin.
The mint chimichurri is also incredibly keto-friendly — the only carbohydrates you’re getting are from the lemon juice, which contains less than 1 g of net carbs per serving of the mint chimichurri, based on lemon juice nutrient info via the USDA (the dish serves 4 to 6).
Time to freshen up your go-to grilling menu with this delicious — and keto-approved — dish!
Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon With Yogurt Sauce
Sarah Gold Nutrition
If you’re new to keto, know this: Your diet shouldn’t be all red meat. Smith, for one, suggests people on the ketogenic diet eat seafood two times per week. So here’s a delicious way to get your fish fix!
“This grilled salmon with yogurt sauce offers a powerful duo of protein and healthy fats, giving your summer barbecue a step up in the health department,” says recipe maker Sarah Gold Anzlovar, RDN, who’s in private practice in Boston.
A 5 oz serving of salmon doesn’t have carbs, according to the USDA, and in this recipe you would get less than 1 g net carbs from the lemon juice, giving this fish dish license to star in any keto meal plan.
In the sauce, you’ll get about 1 g net carb from the yogurt per 6 oz serving, according to the USDA (the recipe serves four), as well as less than 1 g net carb from the lemon juice. The cucumber in the sauce provides less than 0.25 g net carbs per serving, according to the USDA), making the sauce less than 2 g net carbs total per serving.
In addition to the keto-friendly perks, you’re nabbing big health benefits. “Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and the cooling cucumber yogurt sauce gives an extra boost of protein, fat, and flavor for a satisfying, delicious meal,” she says.Get the Recipe3
Seared Romaine With Cheater Caesar Dressing
Family Food on the Table
A salad can be ho-hum, or much more fun, if you take that salad to the grill.
“This seared romaine salad with an easy version of Caesar dressing allows you to get your greens in with a good dose of fat from the olive oil and Parmesan cheese in the dressing,” says the recipe maker Kathryn Doherty, a health and nutrition editor and the founder of Family Food on the Table, who’s based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Also, romaine lettuce has a fair amount of fiber — each large head has over 15 g, according to the USDA (the recipe serves four and calls for two large heads). You’re also getting folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K.
Coming in at 17 g net carbs in total, says Doherty, it still makes for a keto-friendly side dish, and a perfect companion to a meat main. Not to mention, it’s a unique take on a typical summer salad that will surely impress your friends at your next barbecue!
Mini Burger Bite Muffins
Alix Turoff Nutrition
Want all the flavor of a burger, but don’t want to commit to a whole patty? Here’s your solution: these burger bites from Alix Turoff, RDN, a certified personal trainer in New York City.
They’re made with lean ground turkey breast, a small diced onion, egg whites, cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, and ketchup. Each burger bite contains 1 g of net carbohydrates, and 9 g of protein. Turkey breast is low in saturated fat (a 3 oz, 93 percent lean patty only has about 2 g of saturated fat, according to the USDA). Eating too much saturated fat can be easy to do on keto, but avoid it: Saturated fat may raise cholesterol levels, increasing your risk for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Depending on how hungry you are — and your net carb goals for the day — Turoff says you can have anywhere from two to five of these mini burger bites. You’ll also likely want to pair them with a low-carb side, too, like a small salad, to round out your meal.Get the Recipe5
Maple Dijon Chicken
Anything with the word “maple” in its name probably seems off-limits to someone on the keto diet, but that doesn’t have to be the case with this recipe.
“The maple dijon marinade adds a lot of flavor and a little sweetness to this easy chicken thigh recipe, but still fits perfectly on any keto menu,” says Megan Seelinger, a food blogger and keto recipe developer in Silverdale, Washington, who created the recipe. “Instead of using sugar, this recipe uses products sweetened with monk fruit, which is a natural sugar alternative you can use for all your favorite recipes,” Seelinger adds.
Each 4 oz serving has just 0.4 g net carbs, says Seelinger, and you’ll get 28 g of energizing protein in each serving.
Ginger Miso Turkey Burgers
Turkey for the win again! For a flavorful take on a classic, try this punched-up turkey burger from Jessica Levinson, RDN, who’s based in Westchester, New York.
“The combo of umami-rich miso paste, cilantro, garlic, and ginger adds a punch of flavor to lean ground turkey, and will make these low-carb, keto-friendly burgers a hit at your next barbecue,” says Levinson. “Even without the bun, you won’t feel deprived with one of these burgers — serve them on top of a salad or in a lettuce wrap.”
The miso paste will give you just over 1 g net carb per serving, according to the USDA, making the burgers a very low-carb option (garlic and ginger only give you just trace amounts of carbohydrates each).
Meanwhile, the honey in the glaze will up your carb count a smidge (it contains about 6 net carbs, according to the USDA, due to the honey), but if you pair the burger with a lettuce wrap, you’ll be able to keep your numbers in check.Get the Recipe7
Grilled Pork Tenderloin With Sweet Peas, Tomato, and Mozzarella
Vicki Shanta Retelny
Healthy? Check. Keto-friendly? Check. Summer ready? Check. This salad from Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, who’s in private practice in Chicago, ticks all the boxes.
“You can feel good about eating a balanced, satisfying meal while staying in your keto zone,” she says. “In this low-carb, keto-friendly recipe, you get good-quality, lean protein with pork tenderloin rubbed with a mesquite seasoning blend to offer flavor without sodium,” Retelny says.
Retelny says the meal contains 11 g net carbs per serving (the recipe serves four), as well as a whopping 29 g of protein and 14 g total fat.
Grilled Avocado Bruschetta
For a barbecue-inspired avocado dish, try this grilled avocado bruschetta created by Abbey Sharp, RD, of Toronto. The avocados are loaded with tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese, parmesan, and balsamic glaze, and each serving (of half an avocado, with toppings) contains 6 g net carbs, Sharp says.
“Avocado is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and is naturally low in carbs — this grilled appetizer is a great alternative to bruschetta with bread and is packed with summer flavor,” adds Sharp. Indeed, one half of a California avocado (look for a fruit with a black, not green, skin) has 6.65 g of monounsaturated fat and 5.8 g carbs (1.2 g net carbs), according to the USDA.
Who needs bread for your bruschetta when you have decadent avocado?Get the Recipe9
Roasted Cauliflower Salad With Feta, Capers, and Red Pepper
“This salad is loaded with Greek flavors and has only 7 g net carbs and 19 g of fat per serving, making it a great keto side dish,” says the recipe’s creator, Kalyn Denny, a food blogger based in Salt Lake City and the founder of Kalyn’s Kitchen.
The cauliflower is a low-carb veggie, but still packs lots of fiber — this side dish provides 4 grams, says Denny, which is 14 percent of your DV. One cup of cauliflower on its own contains 4 g carbs (2.98 g net carbs) and 1.02 g fiber, according to the USDA.
The cruciferous veggie is also low in calories (24.6 per cup), and contains a compound that may lower the odds of certain types of cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Furthermore, it contains vitamin C and folate, Mayo says.
Serve this at your next barbecue and your guests will never know it’s keto-approved!Get the Recipe10
Keto Grilled Chicken
Grilled chicken doesn’t have to be dry and boring, says Wendy Polisi, a food blogger in Orlando, Florida, and the founder of Kicking Carbs, where she shared her recipe. The flavor comes from the keto-friendly creamy marinade, which includes lemon, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper for an extra kick. If you’re not a fan of mayo, Polisi says you can swap in full-fat plain yogurt in the marinade.
The chicken takes only 14 minutes to cook on the grill, but she recommends marinating the poultry for six hours for maximum deliciousness. If pressed for time, she says you can get away with marinating for just 30 minutes.
The recipe (which includes the marinade) comes in at 1 g net carb, with 1 g of fiber, 17 g of fat, and 25 g of protein, says Polisi.
A fun surprise: You also get almost 450 mg of potassium in each serving (the recipe serves four) — about the amount in one medium-size banana, which has 422 mg, according to the USDA. That’s 9 percent of the DV for potassium.
The best part, though, is the flavor. “This is one recipe your family will turn to again and again,” says Polisi.