By Stephanie S. Saunders

American barbecue dates back to the turn of the last century, as poverty-stricken Southerners were searching for economical food sources. What started as a fire pit covered by a tin roof where travelers could stop and enjoy a cheap and filling meal has turned into an American tradition that seems to bridge the tastes of all classes, races, and ages.

Historically, BBQ was largely dependent on pork, with marinades and seasoning that varied from region to region. Today, beef, chicken, lamb, and a plethora of tasty side dishes have made the list—all of which can potentially be as dangerous to our waistlines as pork itself. So when looking to enjoy a little piece of Southern American history, how do we know what our best choices are? Let's look at BBQ in this edition of Beachbody Restaurant Rescue.


Although appetizers obviously exist in a BBQ joint, they are often overlooked for the more substantial main dish. And as most main meals include a couple of sides and a considerable amount of food, it makes perfect sense to skip the starter. Furthermore, every appetizer offered seems to be loaded with fried fattiness, giving you more reason to avoid unhealthy starters. Should you decide that your stomach is empty enough to handle it all, the following are some popular options offered in BBQ restaurants, with some approximate nutritional breakdowns.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Potato skins, 3 slices 250 17 g 15 g 540 mg 10 g
Buffalo wings, 3 wings 150 9 g 3 g 675 mg 15 g
Artichoke dip, 3 oz. 245 16 g 17 g 475 mg 6 g
Hush puppies, 5 pieces 253 12 g 35 g 964 mg 5 g
Fried green tomatoes, 1 tomato 312 18.8 g 29.9 g 731 mg 6.7 g


Every meal is better when it begins with some greens, especially if it's not iceberg lettuce doused in blue cheese dressing. Given 2 tablespoons of blue cheese dressing contain 20 grams of fat, imagine what that nutrient-free ball of water masquerading as a vegetable, swimming in dressing, holds. Lean toward a field greens salad with light dressing, or even the carrot and raisin salad, which your eyes may thank you for. Above all, avoid mayonnaise-based coleslaw, as a tiny 3-oz. serving can add a couple hundred calories and 13 grams of fat.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Green salad, no dressing 50 < 1 g 7 g < 1 g < 1 g
Ranch dressing, 2 Tbsp. 120 12 g 1 g 110 mg < 1 g
Iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing 320 28 g 4 g 560 mg 7 g
Cole slaw, 3 oz. 232 13 g 26 g 287 mg 2 g
Carrot and raisin salad, 4 oz. 170 6 g 28 g 110 mg 1 g


Here is where BBQ can be scary. Our Southern ancestors seem to have taken the healthiest options out there, and removed all nutritional value, except saturated fat. Try to avoid anything fried, creamed, mayonnaise based, or flavored with pork. Your best possible options are a plain baked potato, corn on the cob without butter, and collard greens. If you must venture into Texas toast and potato salad, try to limit your portion size and share your choices with your companions.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Potato salad, 5 oz. 256 14 g 30 g 527 mg 2 g
Mashed potatoes, 4 oz. 120 6 g 17 g 440 mg 1 g
Texas toast, 1 slice 170 6 g 26 g 230 ,g 5 g
Collard greens, 4 oz. 60 3 g 5 g 290 mg 2 g
Baked beans, 4 oz. 190 3 g 33 g 760 mg 6 g
Corn on the cob, 6 oz. 150 1.5 g 35 g 20 mg 5 g
Corn bread, 1 slice 150 3 g 27 g 310 mg 2 g
Creamed spinach, 3 oz. 160 12 g 18 g 970 mg 4 g
Applesauce, 3 oz. 60 < 1 g 15 g 13 mg < 1 g
Baked potato 220 < 1 g 51 g 16 mg 5 g

Main Course

Mmm, meat. Consumption of vast quantities of flesh is what the country is famous for. And when is meat better than when it's covered in a sugary sauce and slowly cooked over an open flame? Chicken is generally your best choice at a BBQ establishment, and can save you several hundred calories over its red-meat counterparts (depending on your portion size and fixings, of course). And remember that with any meat choice, your body can only break down about 30 grams of protein at once, so eating 16 baby back ribs isn't the wisest choice. Try to keep your portions within reason, avoid anything fried, and resist adding extra sauce, a.k.a. sugar, if possible. The following nutritional breakdowns don't include extra barbecue sauce, since the nutritional content for barbecue sauce varies per location. You can add somewhere between 40 to 70 calories for every 2 tablespoons of sauce used.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Tri-tip, 3 oz. 213 11 g < 1 g 62 mg 26 g
Baby back ribs, 2 ribs 234 18 g < 1 g 330 mg 18 g
Chicken, 4 oz. 187 4 g < 1 g 84 mg 35 g
Beef ribs, 4 oz. 345 29 g < 1 g 62 mg 18 g
Pulled pork, 5 oz. 330 13 g 12 g 640 mg 18 g
Smoked ham, 3 oz. 210 3 g 5 g 860 mg 14 g
Blackened catfish, 7 oz. 550 39 g 20 g 1,260 mg 30 g


These desserts are in no way specific to BBQ restaurants, but you'll tend to find them there. If you can, leave the restaurant and go get some fat-free frozen yogurt. If you have to have that brownie, share it with your companion. Often, a couple of bites of something sweet are enough to satisfy a craving.

Nutritional Information (per serving):
Calories Fat Carbs Sodium Protein
Pecan pie, 3 oz. 330 15 g 23 g 190 mg 4 g
Bread pudding, 3 oz. 216 12 g 25 g 120 mg 4 g
Apple pie, 3 oz. 290 11 g 44 g 230 mg 2 g
Brownie, 2 oz. 260 16 g 30 g 140 mg 2 g

The U.S. is still one of the most obese countries in the world, with our Southern states making up a big part of that heft. This can't be attributed to a certain type of food—certainly, BBQ was around long before this epidemic began—but we do live in a "supersize" nation where abundance is commonplace. Barbecue restaurants provide their clientele with amazingly generous portions. Try to remember that your body needs food for fuel, and that it can only break down so many calories in a single sitting. Be kind to it and remember to make liberal use of another great American contribution to restaurant culture—the doggie bag.