Plan for a barbecue and you may be gearing up for some meat-and-sauce-heavy fare. Think ribs, pulled pork, chicken breasts, and more. You can lighten things up, still enjoy the same familiar barbecue flavors, and add some more nutrition — all without the meat.
Jackfruit is … a fruit! After cooking, it takes on the texture of pulled meat. When combined with barbecue sauce, you’ll hardly notice the difference. This recipe from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken recommends buying young green jackfruit that’s packed in brine or water, not syrup. Jackfruit isn’t high in protein. One cup contains less than 3 grams of protein, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But it does offer 2.48 grams (g) of fiber, or about 9 percent of your daily value (DV). Fiber is a nutrient imperative for healthy digestion, and it can help support a healthy weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. Turns out, most Americans don’t get enough (which would be at least 20 to 30 g per day), Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health points out — yet this recipe can help you get your fix. What’s more, a typical pulled-pork sandwich can set you back about 440 calories, according to the USDA. This slimmed-down version contains only 262 calories!
If you’re not a tofu convert yet, this flavorful recipe (that’s also vegan and gluten-free) will win you over. Tofu is marinated in a bath of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and spices, and then grilled until golden brown. “Tofu makes a nice stand-in for meat, as it takes on a meaty texture and you can serve it with other flavorful summer dishes on the side,” says Palmer, who developed this popular recipe. Still not persuaded? The USDA notes that a 3-ounce (oz) serving — about one-fifth of a typical block of tofu — provides 8 g of protein and only 5 g of fat. Plus, you’ll get 100 milligrams (mg) of calcium for 8 percent of the DV and 1.44 mg of iron for 8 percent of the DV. These are key nutrients that support healthy bones and blood, respectively, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The recipe makes four servings, and each serving has 193 calories, 13 g fat, 6 g carbohydrates, and 17 g protein.
Compared with the 176 calories in a 3.5-oz grilled, skinless chicken breast (which is very lean to begin with), the same amount of eggplant contains just 20 calories, according to the USDA. If you’re new to the veggie, try this recipe from Minimalist Baker. Eggplant is sliced, covered in a variety of spices (including smoked paprika, which gives it that smoky flavor akin to bacon) and grilled. You can adjust the number of servings to suit your needs. One serving has 94 calories, 4 g fat, 14 g carbs, and 2 g protein. Thanks to the eggplant, you also get fiber. One cup of cubed eggplant offers 5.4 g of fiber, covering about 19 percent of the DV. Each serving of the recipe supplies about the same amount.
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If you're familiar with and versed in cooking tofu, give tempeh a whirl. Tempeh is made with fermented soybeans that have been molded into a firm shape. It’s easy to bake or toss on the grill as you would a chicken breast. Try this Easy Baked Barbecue Tempeh from Yummy Mummy. It is free of saturated fat — which in excess may contribute to high cholesterol, per the American Heart Association. Plus, it contains a moderate amount of carbs (15 g in this recipe), making it great if you’re on a low-carb diet, along with 10 g of protein and 151 calories per serving. (There are four servings total.)
Don’t underestimate cheese when you’re looking for a hearty vegetarian barbecue idea. Specifically, you’ll want a type of cheese called halloumi, which often comes in block form and can be sliced and — you guessed it — grilled without making a mess. Making Thyme for Health has a great idea: Grilled Halloumi Kebabs With Mint Yogurt Sauce. It combines halloumi with summer vegetables like zucchini and cherry tomatoes with a yummy sauce made from protein-packed plain Greek yogurt (one cup provides a whopping 21 g, per the USDA!) and refreshing mint. Best of all, this plant-based dish is fun to eat, with all the fixings served on wooden kebabs!
Mushrooms FTW again! Portobello mushrooms in particular are often used as a meat replacement because, well, they deliver a similar texture and the satisfaction factor of meat. What’s more, mushrooms are known to support your immune system, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Try these Barbecue Portobello Mushroom Sliders from Love & Lemons. They're slathered with a homemade tangy barbecue sauce and then stacked on buns. Add all the burger fixings you already love. The sky’s the limit here, from arugula and avocado to jalapeños and smoked Gouda cheese.
“If your goal is to replace meat on your plate, include a rich source of protein like tofu, tempeh, or a bean burger,” says Palmer. She says that all you need to make a great veggie burger is this formula: beans/lentils, grains, a binder (bread crumbs/oats), veggies, herbs, and spices. You can then batch cook them to add to salads or wraps for the week, or serve them at your next barbecue. Start off with Palmer’s Spicy Sorghum Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers, which have a sweet potato and black bean base and are vegan and gluten-free. In addition to the fiber from the black beans, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A. A ½ cup serving of mashed sweet potatoes provides 1,140 micrograms (mcg), covering more than 100 percent of the DV, notes the USDA. Healthier vision, immunity, and organ function are among the reasons vitamin A is an essential nutrient, points out the NIH. Each burger has 146 calories, 4 g fat, 23 g carbs, 6 g protein, and 4 g fiber (covering about 14 percent of the DV).
Much fanfare surrounds grilled cauliflower steaks or eggplant slices, but the thing to remember about these is that they are vegetables, and vegetables have very little protein, says Palmer. Meaning: This type of meal may not keep hunger at bay for long — unless you add something like beans for protein. One-Pot Barbecue Baked Beans from Minimalist Baker are ideal for your next backyard get-together. These feature dry pinto beans, bell pepper, and onion, and a whole pantry's worth of spices for big flavor. One tip: Definitely cook these from dry beans as instructed, which will produce out-of-this world creaminess. Per cup, cooked pinto beans (what the recipe calls for) offer 15.4 g of protein, notes the USDA. You can adjust the number of servings however you like. Per serving you get 259 calories, 2 g fat, 47 g carbs, and 13 g of protein, along with 10 g of fiber (for 36 percent of the DV).
Seitan is a wheat gluten product, but the way it’s pressed and formed, it has a mouthfeel similar to meat. (Stay away from it if you’re gluten-free.) According to the USDA, a 3.5-ounce serving supplies a whopping 19 g of protein and 2 g of iron, which is 11 percent of the DV — making it a good source of the mineral. Iron helps move oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body, according to the NIH. This recipe for vegan seitan steak takes you through the steps of using wheat gluten, lentils, and seasonings to create a richly flavored dish. The recipe makes four servings, and one serving provides 295 calories, 4 g fat, 22 g carbs, and 42 g protein.