Healthy eats

Don't bust your gut! Lower-calorie versions of grilled favorites

May 10, 2012 at 8:40 AM ET

The reason people have a hard time losing weight with traditional diet advice is simple: Diet food is boring. Limp vegetables and listless chicken breasts might work wonders on the waistline, but they do exactly nothing to inspire the appetite. Flavorless meals turn your willpower to mush, and before you know it, you’re elbow-deep in a bucket of fried chicken with two days of calories sitting in your belly.

That’s why we created "Grill This, Not That! The Backyard Survival Guide." It takes all your favorite foods: pizza, burgers, steaks, and yes — even fried chicken — and shows you how to make low-calorie versions using a tool you probably have sitting in your backyard: Your grill. Eighty–two percent of Americans own one, and the more you fire yours up, the more weight you can lose. With "Grill This, Not That!" we show you how.

Here we’ve taken five common restaurant foods and paired them against five of our low-calorie, fat-fighting recreations. If you make each of these swaps just twice over the next few weeks, you’ll cut more than 9,000 calories from your diet (not to mention $90 from your food budget!). Go ahead, fire up the grill.

Typical restaurant pork chop

1,500 calories

52 g saturated fat

2,441 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: An entire carton (12 bowls) of Breyer’s Natural Vanilla Ice Cream!

Pigs get a bad rap. People associate them with bacon and baby back ribs, but they also produce some extraordinarily lean cuts. Trim the visible fat off a 6-ounce pork chop, for instance, and you’re left with only about 6 grams of fat attached to 21 grams of protein. But at restaurants, this lean cut of meat is often painted with butter or oil and left to sizzle on a flat surface that locks in more fat. Your grilling solution: Skip the butter and oil and cook over open grates, which allows fat to drip out. Keep it flavorful by slicing a pocket into the side and stuffing it with a mixture of dried cranberries, walnuts, goat cheese (feta and blue cheese work, too), and a couple shakes of fennel seeds. Lock the pocket closed with toothpicks, and grill it for about 15 minutes, turning once. Meanwhile, lightly brush the asparagus with olive oil, and toss with a dash of salt and pepper. Grill until lightly charred, turning once — about 5 minutes on each side.


Stuffed pork chops with grilled asparagus

490 calories

23.5 g fat (8.5 g saturated)

615 mg sodium

What you’ll need:

  • 4 boneless chops (about 6 oz each) — look for chops that are at least 3/4-inch thick to make stuffing easier
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh goat, feta or blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, roughly chopped
  • 1.5 lbs fresh asparagus
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

How to make it:

  • Preheat a grill over medium heat. Use a paring knife to cut a pocket in the side of each chop, making it as deep and as long as you can without actually puncturing any other part of the meat. Use your fingers to carefully stretch out the pocket to create a bit of extra space. Season the chops all over with salt and pepper.
  • Combine the cranberries, goat cheese, walnuts and fennel seeds in a mixing bowl. Stuff the chops with the mixture until they’re very full and secure with toothpicks. Place the chops on the grill, close the lid and grill, turning once, for about 15 minutes — until browned and cooked all the way through.
  • Trim the asparagus and toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill until lightly charred, turning once — about five minutes on each side. Makes four servings.

"Grill This, Not That!" saves you: 1,020 calories and $16.57!

Related link: The 20 Worst Grilled Foods in America

Typical restaurant fajitas

1,410 calories

55 g fat (25 g saturated)

5,630 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 8 Taco Bell Crunchy Tacos!

On paper, fajitas appear to be a healthy: a few hunks of protein surrounded by onions and peppers. Simple. But restaurants have an uncanny ability to turn even simple meals against you, and in this case, they begin by sautéing those onions and peppers in more fat than you’d ever use in your own kitchen. Then they pair them with too much cheese, too much sour cream, and—in most cases—a side of rice that’s been spiked with oil. For our version, we take a lighter approach. We start with skirt steak, which is a naturally lean cut of beef. We marinate it for an hour in an antioxidant-rich marinade (lime juice, canola oil, chipotle pepper, garlic, chili powder, sugar, and cumin). Then we grill it with onions and peppers until the center of the steak is about 135 degrees and the vegetables are soft. We let it sit for at least five minutes so the juices can reabsorb, and then we serve it with warm tortillas, guacamole, cheese, and pico de gallo.


Grilled Steak Fajitas (1/4 lb meat, 2 tortillas, veggies, condiments)

430 calories

16 g fat (7 g saturated)

810 mg sodium

What you’ll need:

  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Chipotle pepper in adobo
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 lb skirt or flank steak
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced into 1/4-inch- thick rings and skewered with toothpicks
  • 2 large bell peppers (a mix of green and red is best) stemmed, seeded and quartered

How to make it:

  • Combine the oil, lime juice, sugar, chipotle, garlic, chili powder, and cumin in a food processor or blender. Puree until you have a smooth, uniform sauce. Combine with the skirt steak in a sealable plastic bag, seal and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (or up to 4 hours).
  • Preheat a grill over high heat. Remove the steak from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Season all over with salt and pepper and grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until a crust has formed, the meat is firm but yielding to the touch, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak registers 135 degrees F. While the steak cooks, grill the onions and peppers, turning, for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and caramelized.
  • After the steak has rested for at least 5 minutes, slice into thin pieces against the natural grain of the meat. Roughly chop the onions and peppers. Serve the steak and vegetables with the guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese and warm tortillas (flour or corn, heated on the grill). Makes 4 servings.

"Grill This, Not That!" saves you: 980 calories and $9.93!

Related link: 10 ways to eat healthy at the Mexican cantina

Typical restaurant burger

1,310 calories

65 g fat (20 g saturated)

3,230 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: A full pound of Jack Links Original beef jerky! (That’s 4.5 bags!)

Thanks to cheap, fatty meat, heavily buttered buns, and overblown portion sizes, even a basic, cheese-less restaurant hamburger can undo your diet for the day. And for what? Try our Cowboy Burger recipe instead: It has two-thirds fewer calories. Start with ground sirloin, which has less fat than regular chuck, and season the outside of the patties with chipotle and coffee. That’s a fat-free way to earn more flavor than a restaurant burger. Then build the burger with grilled onion, Cheddar, barbecue sauce, and — yes — bacon. One-and-a-half slices — enough to completely cover the surface of the burger — adds only about 30 calories.


Cowboy Burgers

460 calories

22 g fat (11 g saturated)

850 mg sodium

What you’ll need:

  • 1 lb ground bison or beef sirloin
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings and skewered with toothpicks
  • 1/2 Tbsp finely ground coffee
  • 1 tsp chipotle or ancho chili powder
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 4 slices sharp cheddar
  • 4 sesame seed buns, lightly toasted
  • 6 strips bacon, cooked until crisp and halved
  • 4 Tbsp classic barbecue sauce (can be store-bought)

How to make it:

  • Gently form the beef into 4 patties, being careful not to overwork the meat. Let the patties rest for 15 minutes
  • Reheat the grill or grill pan over medium heat. Grill the onion slices, turning, for about 10 minutes, until soft and lightly charred. Just before cooking the patties, season them on both sides with the coffee, chili powder, and salt and pepper. Grill the patties alongside the onions for about 4 minutes, until nicely browned. Flip, top with the cheese, and continue grilling for 3 to 4 minutes longer, until the centers of the patties are firm but gently yielding to the touch and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a burger registers 135 degrees F.
  • Place the burgers on the bun bottoms, top with onions, bacon and barbecue sauce. Makes 4 servings.

"Grill This, Not That!" saves you: 850 calories and $4.37!

Related link: The 15 worst burgers

Typical restaurant steak

912 calories

71 g fat

1,040 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 7 cups of Campbell’s Chunky Beef with Vegetables Soup (That’s 3.5 cans!)

Depending on the cut and quality of the beef, even a plain restaurant steak can pose problems. A fatty cut — like a rib eye — can instantly knock out your total fat allotment for the day. Four ounces is a standard serving of meat, but restaurants are famous for regularly serving twice that and often more. Try our recipe instead: Before you begin grilling, make the flavored butter by blending softened butter with crumbled blue cheese, minced shallot, chives, garlic, and pepper. Stick it in the fridge while you season New York strip steak with smoked paprika, salt, and pepper, and then grill them until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. Allow the steaks to rest for five minutes or more, slice into thick pieces, and top with a spoonful of the flavored butter.


Strip steaks with blue cheese butter

300 calories

20 g fat (10 g saturated)

510 mg sodium

What you’ll need:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened at room temperature for 30 minutes

2 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese

1 Tbsp chopped fresh chives

1 shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

Black pepper and salt to taste

1 lb New York strip steak (about 2 medium steaks)

1 tsp Spanish-style smoked paprika

How to make it:

  • Mix the butter, blue cheese, chives, shallot, garlic, and pepper together in bowl. Spoon the butter into the center of a long piece of plastic wrap, fold the plastic around the butter, and twist the ends to create a log about an inch in diameter. Place in the refrigerator to firm up. Before cooking, remove the butter and slice into 4 thick coins.
  • Preheat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Season the steaks with the paprika, salt and pepper. Grill the steaks, flipping every two minutes, until nice grill marks have developed, the steaks are firm but still yielding to the touch (like a Nerf football), and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak registers 135 degrees F. Allow the steaks to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicking into thick pieces. Arrange on 4 plates and top with the butter.

"Grill This, Not That!" saves you: 612 calories and $14.07!

Related link: The 10 worst "healthy" foods in America

Typical restaurant pizza

1,540 calories

110 g fat (36 g saturated)

1,550 mg sodium

CALORIE EQUIVALENT: 12 Oscar Meyer Beef Franks!

Restaurant pizzas run afoul in three ways: greasy toppings, too much cheese, and absurdly thick crusts. These pies are essentially cheese pastries with pepperoni on top, but master the grilled pizza and you’ll never again crave delivery. The grill gives the crust a smoky char, and with the right ingredients, you get a big flavor profile without all the fat. The trick here is to cook the dough for a couple minutes before you add the toppings, that way it has enough time to get crispy. Your dough can be purchased ahead of time or you can make it yourself (our recipe has only 4 ingredients!). Stretch the dough into a foot-wide circle and stick it right on the hottest part of the grill for two minutes, rotating once. Flip the crust and put it over lower heat for another 30 seconds. Then add a mix of lean meats and vegetables. In "Grill This, Not That!" we provide five waist-slimming topping combinations, and sausage and peppers is but one. For this pie, start with fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce, then top with grilled chicken sausage, assorted bell peppers, and onion. Once the toppings are in place, simply shut the grill and let the pie cook until the cheese has melted, about 3 minutes.


Sausage and peppers pizza (1/4 pizza)

550 calories

15 g fat (8 g saturated)

950 mg sodium

What you’ll need:

  • 2 links uncooked chicken sausage
  • 2 medium green bell peppers (green, red or yellow), stemmed, cored and quartered
  • 1 large red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings and skewered with toothpicks
  • 2 jalapeno peppers (optional)
  • Pizza dough
  • Olive oil for brushing
  • 1.5 cups diced fresh mozzarella
  • 1 cup tomato sauce

How to make it:

  • Preheat a grill using a two-zone fire, one zone high and the other low. Place the sausages, peppers, onions and jalapenos (if using) over the hottest section of the fire. Grill, turning, for about 10 minutes, until the sausage is cooked all the way through, the onions are soft and browned, and the skin on the peppers is blistered. Slice both the sausage and the bell peppers into bite-size pieces and thinly slice the jalapenos.
  • Divide the dough into two equal balls. Using a well-floured work surface and a rolling pin, stretch the dough into 12-inch circles.
  • Place one of the dough circles on a lightly floured pizza peel. Brush the top with oil and slide the dough directly onto the hot part of the grill. Cook for about 30 seconds, until the dough begins to brown, then use a pair of tongs to rotate it 45 degrees. Cook for another 30 seconds, creating diamond-shaped grill marks on the crust. Flip the dough and place, raw side down, on the cooler side of the grill. Working quickly, top first with half of the mozzarella, then half the sauce, sausages, onion and peppers. Close the grill top and let the pizza cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cheese begins to melt. Use your tongs to rotate the pizza 45 degrees and continue cooking until the crust is lightly charred and the cheese is fully melted. Repeat with the other pizza.

"Grill This, Not That!" saves you: 990 calories and $4.38!

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