The Sneaky Calories Hiding at Your Barbecue

Though summer is winding down, there is still time for a good old-fashioned backyard barbecue.

In fact, 70 percent of U.S. barbecuing households cook out on July Fourth, 62 percent on Memorial Day and 55 percent on Labor Day. And the average household cooks outdoors more than 20 times during the summer.

Combined with the fact that the most popular barbecue foods are burgers, steak, hot dogs, chicken, sausage and ribs, all that grilled goodness can add up fast.

We narrowed down some of the biggest offenders on the picnic table and have some easy, healthy alternatives to keep your guests coming back for more.

Appetizers and Dips

Remember the old saying “Big things come in small packages”? Well, the same holds true for snacks and appetizers. Their small size makes them an easy item to overeat, and they can come packed with calories and fat.

Potato Chips: There are 160 calories per 15 chips, making this one powerful spud.

Tortilla Chips and Salsa: Ten of these toasty triangle tostadas carry 75 calories, plus 10 calories per dunk of salsa.

Deviled Eggs: One ½ egg serving holds 64 calories.

Meat, Cheese and Cracker Platter: The pepperoni packs 10 calories per slice, Colby Jack adds another 100 calories per ounce, reduced-fat mild cheddar is 90 calories per ounce and the Ritz Crackers bring everything together with 79 calories per 5 crackers.

Guacamole: Don’t let this veggie fool you; it contains 91 calories per ¼ cup.

Healthy Alternatives: Fresh fruit and vegetables, whole-grain granola bars, and low-fat string cheese are quick and easy healthy options, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring. Remember ants on a log from your childhood? Dress the celery up with some almond butter and dried cranberries for a more adult take on the kid-friendly snack. You don’t have to skip out on the chips either. Just swap them out for kale, sweet potato or any other veggie chip to cut calories.

Main Dishes

These true stars of the party bring everyone to the backyard barbecue, but their calorie counts can also bring tears to your eyes.

Hot Dog: Just one of these barbecue staples has 155 calories.

Grilled Chicken: One breast will add 250 calories to your meal, and a drumstick adds 211 calories.

Cheeseburger (With Bun): Without any toppings, a cheeseburger will cost you 317 calories.

Barbecued Pork Spareribs: Only one of these porcine favorites packs 90 calories, and just like potato chips, you rarely ever eat just one.

Steak: One 8 ounce serving has almost 400 calories.

Healthy Alternatives: At a little over 100 calories, a grilled or smoked turkey breast is a great alternative. Throw some ground turkey burgers on the grill as well for a lighter option. Replace the meat altogether by grilling up some hearty vegetables like sliced eggplant or portobello mushrooms to put between your burger buns instead.


They accompany your meal, but some side dishes can rival the calorie count of your main dish.

Fresh Corn: One ear of these farmland favorites has 132 calories. Want some butter with that corn? That’ll be an extra 36 calories per pat.

Pasta, Macaroni or Potato Salad: Don’t let the word “salad” fool you — one cup can have over 350 calories.

Healthy Alternatives: Simply adding some fresh vegetables to the grill like bell pepper, zucchini, carrots, onions or eggplant in exchange for some of the popular barbecue side dishes can help you lower the calories on your plate.


For many, dessert is the best part of the meal, but after seeing how many calories are in your favorite barbecue foods, you might think twice about hovering over the dessert table.

Apple Pie: America’s favorite pie packs 277 calories per slice.

Vanilla Ice Cream: Adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to your apple pie can add on 137 calories.

Chocolate Ice Cream: Add a scoop of chocolate ice cream and add 125 calories.

Strawberry Ice Cream: One scoop of strawberry ice cream will cost you 111 calories.

Healthy Alternatives: Dessert doesn’t have to be a death sentence for all the hard work you’ve done at keeping your calorie count down. You can still enjoy popular favorites by lightening them up. Lighten up a key lime pie by using nonfat condensed milk and low-fat plain yogurt for the filling. For a less heavy version of strawberry shortcake, use a blend of cake flour and whole-wheat flour and reduced-fat cream cheese for some of the butter in the shortcake, and use a blend of cream and reduced-fat sour cream for a tangy alternative to whipped cream. More of a cake mix kind of person? You’re in luck because many name-brand baking companies are offering up sugar-free versions of their popular cake mixes, as well as sugar-free frostings.


Your favorite drinks didn’t fail to make the list of calorie culprits.

Coca-Cola: One 16-ounce bottle carries 186 calories.

Pepsi: Coke’s rival one-ups it with 200 calories per bottle.

Sprite: Quenching your thirst with this lemon-lime drink will cost you 138 calories.

Lemonade: This summertime staple has 99 calories per glass.

Beer: A bottle of regular beer averages around 150 calories, and light beer averages around 95 calories.

Wine: Both red and white wine have over 120 calories per glass.

Mixed Drink: The average mixed drink hovers around 155 calories.

Healthy Alternative: Drink water, and lots of it! It has zero calories and keeps you adequately hydrated between the heat of the sun beaming down and the heat radiating off the grill. Can’t have a barbecue without a little alcohol? Try a Paleo margarita — tequila on the rocks with fresh squeezed lime juice — as a calorie-friendly option.

To put everything into perspective, we loaded up a hypothetical barbecue plate that has a little bit of everything on it, and then we added up the calories.


It’s easy to see how quickly an innocent family barbecue can pack enough calories to equal the recommended daily value of 2,000. But with some savvy thinking, you can have your barbecue and save calories too!

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