How to Make Your Memorial Day Barbecue Healthy, Seasonal & Delicious

Memorial Day barbecue

For many, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of barbecue season. For Richard Jarmusz, executive chef at the UVM Medical Center, it’s the perfect time to change up your menu with local meats, seasonal vegetables, and your own homemade BBQ sauce (hint: it’s easier than you think to make!).

Chef Jarmusz provides his tips – and a recipe – for your Memorial Day.

Add seasonal vegetables to your menu. 

Create a simple salad of seasonal greens – spinach and grilled asparagus work well. You can drizzle homemade vinaigrette and crumble some local goat cheese on top and you have a delicious way to start your meal. There are lots of local treats available in local markets this time of year, like wild mushroom and wild leeks (ramps). Both are great sautéed in a little butter.

Try local meats. 

When it comes to the main event – the meat – I’ve started cooking up local pork from Middlebrook Market in Fairfax. If you buy local meat, be sure to look at how it is packaged. In particular, look for the USDA inspection sticker. This will let you know that it was processed following all necessary requirements. If you have the time, talk to the farmer about how the animal was raised and fed. Also, check out the general cleanliness of the operation.

Choose lean cuts. 

As a chef, fat is flavor. That said, you want to stay healthy. So, cook the meat slow. Because of the way in which meats like pork are raised, and using a slow method of cooking, the fat just melts off and adds flavor as it bastes itself. A good rule of thumb is to leave an eighth-of-an-inch of fat on your meat. For beef, use cuts like beef tender loin, top round, eye round, and ground 90% lean. For pork, use the pork tender loin, rib chops with bone or boneless center, cut pork chop, and 90% lean ground pork. With poultry, use the breast meat skinless (Remember not to overcook as they have a tendency to dry out).

Barbecue meat safely. 

Cook your beef to 155 degrees Fahrenheit, cook chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and cook pork to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a good thermometer and make sure you measure the temperature of the meat for at least 15 seconds.

Go fishing. 

Fish are a great choice for your barbecue! Stick with salmon, swordfish, and mackerel . These are firmer fish and will hold up better against your grill. Although there are many different techniques for grilling fish, try this simple one: Roast the fish with tomatoes and fresh herbs in a sauté pan. You can use your grill cover to make an oven. Enhance flavor by using wood chips and serving you fish with fresh fruit salsa, such as pineapple.

Grill some veggies. 

I’ve grilled just about everything – and you can, too! With the exception of root vegetables, which are tougher to grill and have to be pre-cooked, everything is up for grabs. Asparagus, cauliflower, mushroom, and tomatoes – even kale. One of my favorites is the garden-fresh onion. Take a red onion or a Spanish onion, cut it in half, drizzle a little olive oil on inside, and put it on grill to roast it. When it’s tender, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar on top, then finish it off with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and let it bake off. I bet you will try that one more than once!

Make side dishes ahead of time.

I like to make salads using beans, lentils, or wheat berries. Wheat berries are wonderful because you can prepare them ahead of time and put them in your freezer. I will pull them out of the freezer, toss them with vinaigrette and some fresh vegetables and have a great salad in no time. For those old time favorites, like potato salad, substitute half or more of the mayonnaise with fat-free Greek yogurt. For coleslaw, my favorite is Asian slaw with cabbage, carrots, onions, and apple tossed in a light dressing made with ginger root, garlic, lime juice, sesame oil, cider vinegar, cilantro, maple syrup, and low sodium soy sauce.

Most people don’t realize how easy it is to make homemade BBQ sauce. Here’s a recipe for you to try this year.

Richard Jarmusz is executive chef at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Learn more about Sustainable Nutrition at the UVM Medical Center. 

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