Menu Navigator: Best (and Worst) Choices at a Barbecue Restaurant

Yes, you can keep up a healthy diet at a barbecue joint.

BBQ Illustration

Illustration by Serge Bloch  

  • Woman at table

    Menu Navigator

    Trying to eat healthy when dining out? We'll show you what to order at a typical restaurant.


Barbecue: It's a noun and a verb and a piece of equipment and a technique (to be distinguished from grilling) and, in some places, almost a religion. It's also all about bigness—of flavors, of servings. That makes it a challenge for the healthy eater.

Still, there are sound choices on a barbecue menu, as the "Healthy Choice" and "Ask Your Server" selections below show. Keep in mind, however, that the entrées listed here don't include side dishes, and creamed corn, mac'n cheese, and breaded okra can each easily contain nearly 20 grams of saturated fat. Fries or onion rings can cost you nearly half your day's calories. Although we wish we had a sexier solution, your best bet is a salad or steamed veggie with dressing or sauce on the side.

We analyzed the nutrition of common dishes. Numbers vary widely among restaurants. Those labeled "Splurge Only" aren't untouchable (no food is) but can be a big splurge.

Splurge Only:

Ask Your Server:

Healthy Choices:


Vinegar Sauce: A sharp vinegar base gets sweet balance from brown sugar, plus a little body from a dollop of ketchup. Of the basic barbecue sauces, this one is usually lowest in calories and sodium. It gets its heat from ground or crushed red pepper, fresh chiles, or hot sauce.

Mustard Sauce: Built from yellow mustard flavored with sugar, molasses, and vinegar, it's often enriched with a little butter. Sodium is the biggest concern.

Red Sauce: It starts with ketchup or tomato sauce, then brown sugar and molasses sweeten it up. A spice blend (usually secret) adds character. Red sauce is high in sugar and, often, in sodium.

White Sauce: Gaining favor in some quarters, this creamy sauce packs the most calories. It can be a tasty blend of mayo, mustard, sugar, vinegar, or lemon—with a little extra bite from horseradish.

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