Grill Away Your Gut

Pop quiz: What do these three things have in common:

  • The cast of Law & Order
  • Lil’ Wayne’s dentist
  • Superfast summer weight loss

Answer: They all involve grills!

Of course, the part that’s relevant to you—the weight loss part—doesn’t involve sweating out a confession from a perp or adding diamonds to a rapper’s teeth. (Although both would seem to make eating a lot pretty impossible.) But the grill that’s hanging out in your backyard, providing a great place for spiders to spin their webs? Well, once you learn to fire it up right, you’ll discover that it just might be the most effective weight-loss tool in your arsenal.

How's that, you ask? Isn't the grill where we turn to cook fatty steaks and burgers? Sure, but that's not as bad as it seems. When you drop a piece of meat on your grill, much of the fat bubbles out and burns up on the coals below. A study in the journal Meat Science found that grilling a pork chop by conventional methods could actually decrease its fat content by nearly a third.

Now, you may want to take the lazy route and just order something grilled from your local restaurant. But here's where things get tricky. In many cases, restaurant “grills” are actually grill plates, or hot slabs of flat metal that lock fat in instead of cooking it out. Plus, restaurants routinely paint their meats with hot oil and clarified butter, effectively ramping up the fat count to flab-inducing levels.

So if you want it cooked right, you have to cook it at home. Eighty-two percent of American households already own a grill, and the Cook This, Not That! research here demonstrates that by grilling in instead of eating out, you can save from 500 to more than 1,500 calories per meal. With just the four swaps on this page, you can trim nearly 5,000 calories from your diet—enough to blast nearly a pound and a half from your gut. What’s the catch? There is none! You’ll also save nearly $40 by staying out of the restaurants! So pop open a cold drink, fire up the grill, and call up some friends. It’s time to start grilling your way to a lean belly.

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FISH TACOS
Not That!
On the Border Dos XX Tacos ($9.79)
2,150 calories
144 g fat (31 g saturated)
3,740 mg sodium
 
Grill This Instead!
Grilled Fish Tacos ($2.97/serving)
380 calories
11 g fat (2 g saturated)
240 mg sodium
 
You Save: 1,770 calories, 133 g fat, $6.39

Who doesn’t love fish tacos? South of the border, the fish is always battered and fried and served with an aggressive dousing of mayo-like sauce. We wanted to ditch the frying oil and mayo but maintain the flavor, so we subbed a spicy blackening seasoning and a nutrient-rich mango-avocado salsa, which cuts the heat and pairs perfectly with the fish. This salsa would make gardening gloves taste good. Along with the calories and fat you save, you’ll also cut a day and a half’s worth of sodium. (Don’t miss our shocking list of the 30 Saltiest Foods in America, which includes a breakfast sandwich that has more sodium that five large fries from McDonald’s!)

Ingredients
1 mango, peeled, pitted, and cubed
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and cubed
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime, plus wedges for garnish
Chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and black pepper
Canola oil
2 large mahi-mahi fillets (1 1/2 lbs total)
1 Tbsp blackening spice
8 corn tortillas
2 cups finely shredded red cabbage
 
Directions

  • Mix the mango, avocado, onion, and the juice of one lime in a bowl. Season with cilantro, salt, and pepper.
  • Heat a grill or stovetop grill pan until hot. Drizzle a light coating of oil over the fish and rub on the blackening spice. Cook the fish, undisturbed, for four minutes. Carefully flip with a spatula and cook for another four minutes. Remove.
  • Warm the tortillas on the grill for one to two minutes or wrap in damp paper towels and microwave for one minute until warm and pliable.
  • Break the fish into chunks and divide among the warm tortillas. Top with the cabbage and the mango salsa. Serve with the lime wedges.

Makes 4 servings

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STEAK
Not That!
Ruby Tuesday Rib Eye ($16.99)
822 calories
63 g fat
1,224 mg sodium
 
Grill This Instead!
Coffee-Rubbed Steak ($2.41/serving)
270 calories
15 g fat (6 g saturated)
600 mg sodium
 
You Save: 552 calories, 48 g fat, $14.58

Coffee and steak might seem like an unlikely partnership, but the flavor of beef is actually heightened by the robust notes of java. This dish would be perfect with grilled vegetables and a side of black or pinto beans. Or heat up a few corn tortillas and pass them out so everyone can make their own little tacos. Either way, be sure to let the beef rest (even if it actually makes this 10-minute meal a 12- or 13-minute meal); cut into it too early and all the still-hot juices will bleed onto your cutting board, instead of being reabsorbed by the meat.

Ingredients
1/2 Tbsp finely ground coffee or espresso
1/2 Tbsp chili powder
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 lb skirt or flank steak
Pico de Gallo
1 lime, quartered
 
Directions

  • Preheat a grill, grill pan, or cast-iron skillet. Combine the coffee grounds with the chili powder, plus a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. Rub the spice mixture all over the steak. Cook the beef for three to four  minutes per side, depending on thickness, until slightly firm but still yielding.
  • Let the steak rest for at least five minutes, then slice thinly against the grain of the meat. Serve with a big scoop of pico de gallo and a wedge of lime.

Makes 4 servings
   
CHICKEN
Not That!
Outback Steakhouse Alice Springs Chicken ($13.99)
1,328 calories
92 g fat (41 g saturated)
2,116 mg sodium
 
Grill This Instead!
Chicken under a Brick ($2.40/serving)
280 calories
8 g fat (2 g saturated)
780 mg sodium

You Save: 1,048 calories, 84 g fat, $11.59 

Drop the bottled barbecue sauce! The Italians figured out a magical way to grill chicken that involves no special sauces or condiments; in fact, all you really need is a brick or two and some aluminum foil. Whoever first placed brick to backbone was smart enough to recognize that the extra weight helped press the bird evenly—and forcefully—against the grill, which translates into a juicier bird with a crisper skin—a win-win in our book. (As Outback proves, not all chicken dishes are healthy. See this eye-popping list of The 30 Worst Chicken Dishes in America for more outrageous examples.)
 
Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 whole chicken, back removed, split in half
2 lemons, halved
2 bricks, covered in aluminum foil
 
Directions

  • Combine the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper in a large bowl, baking dish, or sealable plastic bag. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover the bowl or seal the bag and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.
  • Preheat a grill (you want a nice medium-low heat). Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on the grate, skin side up. Cover the grill and cook for 10 minutes, until the chicken is lightly charred. Flip the chicken over, then place a brick on top of each half so that it presses the chicken firmly and evenly against the grate. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the skin is thoroughly browned and crisp and the meat pulls away easily from the bone. (If the grill flares up, move the chicken to a collar part of the grill.) While the chicken cooks, toss on the lemon halves, cut side down, and grill until charred and juicy.
  • Separate each breast from the chicken leg by making a cut right at the thigh bone. Serve each of the four pieces of chicken with a grilled lemon half.

Makes 4 servings

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BURGER
Not That!
Chili's Southern Smokehouse Burger with Ancho Chile BBQ ($9.39)
1,910 calories
126 g fat (43 g saturated)
5,290 mg sodium
 
Grill This Instead!
Green Chili Cheeseburger ($2.62/serving)
320 calories
11 g fat (4.5 g saturated)
420 mg sodium
 
You Save: 1,590 calories, 115 g fat, $6.77

As bad as fast-food burgers can be, they look like nutritional superstars when stacked next to sit-down restaurant burgers. The bulk of the burgers at Applebee’s, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday, Outback, and T.G.I. Friday’s weigh in at 1,000 calories or more—before the massive mound of French fries that invariably accompanies them. The key to keeping the calories down is finding a lean but tasty cut of beef (we love sirloin); using healthy, flavor-packed condiments (e.g., roasted chiles, not fried onion rings); and finding a small, fiber-rich bun to house your creation.

Ingredients
1 lb ground sirloin or brisket
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 can (4 oz) roasted green chiles, drained and chopped
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 potato buns (preferably Martin’s Potato Rolls)
4 thick slices tomato
4 medium slices red onion
 
Directions

  • Heat a grill, stovetop grill pan, or cast-iron skillet. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Form four patties, being careful not to overwork the meat.
  • When the pan is hot, add the burgers. Cook for three to four minutes on the first side (until nicely charred), then flip and immediately top each with a tablespoon of chiles and a slice of Swiss. For medium-rare burgers, continue cooking for another three to four minutes, until the patties are just firm. Remove the burgers and toast the buns on the hot grill or pan. Dress the bottom of the buns with the tomato and onion slices, then top each with a burger.

Makes 4 servings

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