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8 Unhealthiest Cookout Foods

8 Unhealthiest Cookout Foods

You may not even know that many of the cookout foods that you enjoy can be swapped out for a healthier option

Try some of these tips and suggestions to have the best cookout on the block.

Summer is almost in full swing and barbecues, cookouts, and picnics are happening every weekend. While many of us are getting ready to fire up the grill and serve up some classic barbecue fare this season, there are a few healthier choices you can make. You may not even know that many of the cookout foods that you enjoy can be replaced by a healthier option. We've compiled a list of the unhealthiest cookout foods and what you can serve instead to still have a delicious cookout.

Click here to see the 8 Unhealthiest Cookout Foods (Slideshow)

Hamburgers and hot dogs are a cookout classic — and there's no need to cut them out entirely. Try opting for lean hamburger beef or even trying a turkey or vegetable burger. Same goes for the hot dogs — try a lean beef or turkey dog. Skip the bacon, cheese, and mayonnaise, and add a little mustard and fresh vegetables instead. We've found even more popular cookout foods, from mains to sides and desserts, that we've made healthier. Sounds easy enough, right?

By just making a few changes, you can completely transform your cookout menu into something healthy and lower in calories for your family and guests. This summer is about being fit, healthy, and active. Don't get weighed down by unhealthy cookout foods at you barbecue. Try some of these tips and suggestions to have the best (and healthiest) cookout on the block.

Sugary Barbecue Sauce

Check the label on your store-bought barbecue sauce. Many of them are super high in sugar and sodium. Keep the sauce to a minimum or try making your own to ensure healthy ingredients are used.

Mayonnaise-based Salads

Pasta, macaroni, and potato salads are full of heavy and thick mayonnaise-based dressings. Instead, use a nonfat Greek-style yogurt for the base. You can also use a light, citrus dressing with olive oil and fresh herbs.

Click here to see more Unhealthy Cookout Foods

Emily Jacobs is the Recipe editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyRecipes.


Top 8 Unhealthiest Foods

In the modern society, people have less and less time to cook their own food. This is why fast-food outlets and restaurants have become more popular. However, is this a healthy eating habit?

Nutritionists underline that some food products are a real nightmare for our health. These food products contain high quantities of saturated fat, nitrates, sugars and salt and, therefore, can lead to cholesterol level increase. Long-term consumption of such food products can cause weight increase and also various diseases. Moreover, these food products don't ensure the necessary daily intake of vitamins and minerals.

In this respect, we thought that a list with the 8 most unhealthy food products would be of interest to you:

1. Burgers
2. Bacon
3. French Fries and Potato Chips
4. Hot Dogs
5. Doughnuts
6. Margarine and butter
7. Sodas
8. Cookies and cakes

Burgers have a lot of fat and calories and can drastically increase the level of cholesterol. Difference may occur among restaurants in terms of fat and calories contained by burgers. Depending on cooking methods and ingredients, a regular hamburger with condiments, vegetables and without mayonnaise has about 280 calories (about 14% of the needed daily value) and more than 13 grams of fat (about 20% of the needed daily value).

A large double cheeseburger with condiments, vegetables and mayonnaise has about 900 calories (45% of the needed daily value) and more 50 grams of fat (80% of the needed daily value). Still, the most negative aspect is that most fat are saturated fat which are some of the unhealthiest type of fat.

The worst ingredient of the burger is mayonnaise, which consists of 70-80% fat. If you do like burgers and don't consider giving up on them, ask something without mayonnaise and you will save about 200 calories and 12 grams of fat. Burgers have a lot of salt, so they are not good for those suffering from high blood pressure. Also, burgers are not recommended for pregnant women.

One ounce (28 grams) of fried bacon has about 150 calories and more than 10 grams of fat. Regular consumption can cause a rapid weight-gain and cholesterol level increase. Also, the high level of saturated fat and sodium make it unhealthier.

In addition, processed meat products like bacon and hot dogs are added nitrates to preserve color and maintain microbial safety. Even though nitrates don't have harmful effects on the human body, in the presence of amino acids present in our stomachs it can convert into carcinogenic chemical compounds called nitrosamines. Vitamin C inhibits this conversion and, therefore, if you do eat food products with nitrates, it would be better if you eat/drink also something rich in Vitamin C at the same time (like orange juice).

3. French Fries and Potato Chips

French fries generally have about 400 calories and 20 grams of fat. However, some fast-food outlets serve fries with even more calories and fat. French fries contain saturated fat and, due to the high oil temperature in which they are fried, they also contain high levels of trans fat. Trans fat are known to increase the risk of heart diseases and accelerate the aging process. Also, heated carbohydrates in French fries contain acrylamides, a potential carcinogen substance. In addition, French fries have a lot of salt which can cause strokes and stomach cancer.

Potato chips also contain acrylamides. One bag of 225 grams has 1,200 calories (more than half the number needed per day) and 85 grams of fat (130% of recommended fat per day). Still, the worst aspect is that such food products have 25 grams of saturated fat, 5 grams more than a person should have per day. Numerous experiments have demonstrated that saturated fat raises cholesterol level and increases the risk of heart diseases.

So, let's say that you share the chips with someone else. That means you get 600 calories, about 42 grams of fat (65% of the daily needed value) and about 12 grams of saturated fat (62% of the daily needed value). In order to get 25% of the daily needed value of saturated fat (5 grams), 26% of fat and 240 calories, you have to share chips with other four persons. Unbelievable, but all this are included in just a quick snack.

Getting chips with no fat made with olestra (fat substitute) isn't good either. Olestra can bind with vitamins A, D, E and K and eliminate them from the body.

If you are just addicted to potato chips, try the ones made of dried potatoes. They have the same amount of calories, but half the amount of fat. However, it's best just to replace them with some fruits.

A plain hot dog has about 250 calories and 14 grams of fat (which includes saturated fat). The hot dog meat generally contains pork or beef and sometimes pork mixed with chicken. The high content of sodium, fat and nitrates make it a very unhealthy choice.

5. Doughnuts

One normal-size doughnut has about 250-300 calories and 10-20 grams of fat, depending on its type. Doughnuts are tasty but they have no nutritional value whatsoever.

Because they are fried in oil, doughnuts have a lot of trans fat. Also, they contain high quantities of sugar and refined flour and are made with partially hydrogenated oil. The saturated fat and trans fat that doughnuts contain increase heart diseases risk.

What is interesting about doughnuts is that they have high levels of carbohydrate which releases serotonin and dopamine, two brain chemicals associated with mood and pleasure.

6. Margarine and butter

These are two different food products which are unhealthy for two different reasons. But since they substitute each other, they deserve the same place.

Margarine is basically hydrogenated fat. One tablespoon of margarine has about 30 calories, 3.5 grams of fat and 0.5 grams of saturated fat. Hydrogenated fat are high in trans fat.

Butter has less calories and fat and doesn't have dangerous trans fat levels. However, it does have high amounts of saturated fat (about 1.5 grams per tablespoon).

Both trans fat and saturated fat increase cholesterol level along with the risk of heart diseases.

Sodas are nothing but water, sugar, artificial food colors and artificial flavors. The high amount of sugar from a can of soda gives you about 150 calories. Most sodas contain 30 milligrams or more of caffeine. Sodas have become a major problem due to their high popularity. People of all ages drink one up to five or more soft drinks per day. The dangers of sodas are weight gain, diabetes, tooth decay and others.

If you don't want to give up on them, consider the sugar free soda or switch to fruit juices.

8. Cookies and cakes

Many cookies and cakes are made with hydrogenated fat and contain a lot of calories. Just one chocolate chip of one ounce (28 grams) has about 130 calories and 7 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of which is saturated fat (more than 20% of the daily needed value). One cupcake has about 200 calories and 8 grams of fat.

Of course, whenever you're craving for something sweet, you can choose a cake with fruits, which is healthier.

Conclusions

An average person needs about 2000 calories (about 1,600 calories for women and about 2,200 calories for men), 65 grams of fat and can handle about 20 grams of saturated fat per day.

Let's say that you have bacon, eggs and toast for breakfast. How many calories do you get?

Worst case scenario:

4 oz of Bacon (600 calories, 40 grams of fat, 15 grams of saturate fat) + 2 Eggs (200 calories, 15 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat) + two slices of toast (150 calories) + 1 Biscuit (100 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat) = 1050 calories, 60 grams of fat, 20 grams of saturated fat.

If at lunch you go to a fast food outlet and order a burger with french fries and a soda.

Worst case scenario:

Double hamburger, with condiments, vegetables and mayonnaise (950 calories, 58 grams of fat, 21 grams of saturated fat) + large french fries (530 calories, 28 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat) + one medium soda (180 calories) = 1660 calories, 86 grams of fat, 27 grams of saturated fat.

Let's say you eat a dessert. If we add chocolate chips (230 calories, 12 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat) it becomes a total of 1890 calories, 91 grams of fat, 32 grams of saturated fat.

Best case scenario:

Hamburger with condiments and vegetables (280 calories, 13 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat) + one small size french fries order (270 calories, 14 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat) + one medium soda (180 calories) = 730 calories, 27 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat.

You do the math.

Of course, the best case scenario would be to order something totally different, like a chicken salad or grilled fish with a diet soft drink and fruits as dessert.


Greek Salad with Chicken

"The romaine lettuce in Panera's Greek Salad with Chicken contains vitamin C and beta carotene, two nutrients that work together to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, making it a heart-healthy pick. The pepperoncinis add a spicy kick to help boost metabolism, and the feta contains calcium that helps build healthy bones. To keep the salad reasonably healthy, I ask for light dressing. I find that when people ask for dressing on the side, they're more likely to end up using more dressing themselves. – Dana Kofsky, nutrition consultant

"When it comes to mealtime, I am sucker for anything Mediterranean, so I would almost immediately go for the voluminous, heart-healthy Greek Salad with Chicken. It's chock-full of high-fiber veggies, serves up some anti-inflammatory olives and provides staying power thanks to the chicken's lean protein. With the dressing on the side, this 500 calorie salad goes down to about 300 calories, so I'd take a couple small spoonfuls of the high-calorie, oil-based dressing and leave the rest aside so I don't go over my 400-calorie meal limit." – Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group


Healthy Cookout Recipes: Fuel Up with Good Food

The marinade for these shrimp &mdash a piquant mix of lemon juice, garlic, ginger, basil, and parsley &mdash would be equally good with pork or chicken. The dipping sauce is almost chutney-like with chunks of whole tomatoes lemongrass and lime juice add tang.

Classic Andalucian gazpacho combines raw vegetables like tomatoes and onions with red wine vinegar for a little kick. We've transformed the recipe by using grilled vegetables brightened with a blend of vinegar, orange juice, and lemon juice.

In this fun incarnation of Caesar salad, grilling romaine with a light brushing of oil boosts its flavor while adding few calories. For the dressing, chef Kerry Simon ingeniously swaps in low-fat mayonnaise for egg yolks.

Dress up tender Asian eggplant with a vibrant fresh-ginger sauce. Make extra to use with steamed fish or poached chicken later.

Fish tacos are a staple among California surfers but are often beer-battered and fried. Chef Kerry Simon's healthier, grilled version enriches the guacamole with low-fat sour cream and jalapeños for an extra kick. The simple lime and cabbage slaw adds a delicious crunchy texture.

Want to make a dessert you don't have to feel guilty about eating? Top creamy frozen yogurt with chunks of caramelized, grilled pineapple and slivers of fresh coconut. Toasted, shredded coconut is just as delicious. Another variation: Swap out the pineapple for bananas and garnish with the Japanese herb shiso.


Veggie Burgers

Eat This
Amy's All American Veggie Burger
Per patty (71 g): 130 calories, 4 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 430 mg sodium, 13 g carbs (4 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 11 g protein

Not That!
Gardenburger The Original Veggie Burger
Per patty (71 g): 110 calories, 3 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 490 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (4 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 5 g protein

Amy's packs plenty of protein into their patties while keeping calories low, which is exactly what you want in a meat substitute. Unfortunately for Gardenburger, we can't say the same about their burgers. Plus, Gardenburger adds gums and yeast extract to its blend.


The 31 Best Vegan BBQ Recipes For Your Next Backyard Cookout

For vegans, &ldquolet&rsquos fire up the grill!&rdquo can be a pretty alienating sentiment. I mean, summer BBQs typically feature all the animal products (think hot dogs topped with beef chili and shredded cheese).

Luckily for my fellow plant-eaters and I, though, that's starting to change. The $939 million plant-based meat market has grown by an astounding 38 percent over the last two years, according to The Good Food Institute. And demand for products made from meat may fall by up to 50 percent in the next 10 years, a recent RethinkX report suggests.

The bottom line: Vegan barbecue recipes might soon be seriously in-demand.

Of course, your best bet is always to swap that steak for whole plant foods, like a hearty slab of grilled cauliflower topped with herbs, spices, and cashews&mdashnot a mock beef alternative.

While plant-based meat alternatives are touted as great ways to transition away from eating meat (and reduce your carbon footprint!), they&rsquore not your best bet for long-term health, says Monica Auslander Moreno, RD, dietitian and founder of Essence Nutrition. (Some experts question the health implications of consuming a lot of soy isolates, which are commonly used in plant-based meat alternatives. Whole soy is a-okay, though.)

Auslander Moreno recommends filling your picnic table with nourishing recipes, like BBQ tempeh (which is made of probiotic-rich fermented soybeans that are high in fiber and protein), homemade veggie burgers loaded with ingredients like beans, beets, tahini, carrots and quinoa, and sides like roasted sweet potatoes, salads, and dips like hummus and guac.

From fun apps to grillable mains and summery desserts, you&rsquoll be counting down the days until you get to whip up these plant-based dishes for your next BBQ.


Easy All-American Summer Cookout Recipes

These fun and easy veggie "pops" of avocado, tomatoes, and cheese are perfect finger-food appetizers for a summer barbecue.

Red and green cabbage tossed with yellow and red bell peppers, carrots, and scallions give this coleslaw recipe a bright and colorful appeal.

Crispy bacon adds a salty crunch and chopped pimientos add a slight sweetness to this classic deviled egg recipe. Substitute almonds for the bacon for a healthier option.

The perfect picnic dish, this easy potato salad recipe keeps it simple but makes enough to serve &mdash and please &mdash a crowd!

Homemade toppings like sauerkraut, chili, relish, and caramelized onions make the average grilled hot dog and bratwurst delicious and unique.

It's doesn't take long to prepare this satisfying chili. Barbecue sauce gives it a delicious taste of summer.

Peppers, onion, relish, fresh cilantro, and lime juice give corn a refreshing new taste.

Give caramelized onions a bit of a kick by infusing flavors from a chipotle chile.

Sauerkraut is the perfect topping for hot dogs. We make it even better by steeping it in beer, sugar, and chili powder.


50 Summer Foods You Should Never Eat

For the sake of your waistline and your health, try to steer clear of these warm weather treats.

Summertime is marked by lazy days, fun in the sun&hellipand food. Just like you can&rsquot have Thanksgiving without turkey, it&rsquos not really summer until you&rsquove had a freshly grilled burger or drippy ice cream cone.

Not every warm-weather staple is worth chowing down on though. While it&rsquos fine to treat yourself once in a while, there are some summer foods that you might be better off avoiding&mdashboth for the sake of your waistline and your health. Here, 50 picks to steer clear of (at least, most of the time).

What&rsquos less healthy than a big, fatty sausage? One that&rsquos battered and deep-fried&mdashwhich is precisely what a corn dog is, says Dallas-Fort Worth-based registered dietitian Amy Goodson. A typical dog has around 250 calories, 11 grams of fat, and almost 600 milligrams of sodium. And since the ones at carnivals and fairs tend to be oversized, they&rsquoll likely do even more nutritional damage, Goodson adds.

It&rsquos got all the unhealthy ingredients you&rsquoll find in other cakes&mdashbut with even more fat. &ldquoWhen fried, the batter soaks up tons of oil,&rdquo Goodson says. As a result, the typical dinner plate-sized portion delivers a whopping 760 calories and 40 grams of fat.

Even with a sprinkle of lettuce and tomato, tortilla chips smothered in cheese, ground beef, and sour cream do not a healthy snack make. In fact, a basket of nachos can have upwards of 750 calories, 38 grams of fat, and around 1,300 milligrams of sodium.

Out of all the novelty ice cream options out there, this one might be the worst. That&rsquos because it&rsquos really three desserts in one: two giant chocolate chip cookies plus a big scoop of ice cream. Delicious? Yup! Good for you? Not in the least.

Don&rsquot be fooled into thinking they&rsquore a better choice than French fries. Onion rings are heavily breaded in a coating of white flour, and all that batter sops up tons of oil in the deep fryer. The result is a side dish with as many as 481 calories and 30 grams of fat&mdashmore than a large chocolate-frosted donut.

It might have the word &ldquosalad&rdquo in the name, but that doesn&rsquot make it good for you. Thanks to all that gloppy mayo, you&rsquoll get 358 calories and more than 20 grams of fat from just one cup of this starchy side.

Resist the urge to add these to your burger. They&rsquore basically a splash of real milk combined with preservatives, thickeners, and salt. If you&rsquore looking for some gooey goodness, top your patty with a handful of fresh cheddar or mozzarella, recommends New York-based registered dietitian Vanessa Rissetto.

You probably only indulge in the gooey candy when you&rsquore vacationing at the beach, which is a good thing. For every ounce of chocolate-and-nut fudge you pop in your mouth, you&rsquore taking in 130 calories, 5 grams of fat, and more than 4 teaspoons of sugar. Yikes!

It doesn&rsquot matter if the item in question is grilled meat, a creamy side, or even a refreshing bowl of fruit salad. If it&rsquos been sitting outside in the heat for more than an hour, it could harbor bacteria that could make you sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unless you want to run the risk of food poisoning, steer clear.

How bad can a shredded cabbage side dish be? Pretty bad. Not only are most slaws loaded with creamy ingredients like mayo and sour cream&mdashthey also sneak in a surprising amount of sugar. Case in point? You&rsquoll get 15 grams of fat and more than 2 teaspoons of sugar from a cup of slaw.

They might be happy hour staples, but you won&rsquot be feeling too good after you drink them. An 8-ounce frozen margarita, for instance, packs around 400 calories. &ldquoNot to mention, the more you drink, the less you end up caring about what you eat,&rdquo Goodson says. When you want to booze, consider sticking with cleaner options like vodka and seltzer with a splash of lime.

They might seem relatively harmless next to a greasy corn dog or fried candy bar. But with nearly 500 calories&rsquo worth of white flour, these carb-laden snacks are the equivalent of eating five slices of white bread. If you wouldn&rsquot do that, you might not want to devour one of these either.

It might not be a healthy alternative to sugary drinks after all. Even though it&rsquos calorie-free, a growing body of research links diet soda consumption to obesity. It also contains chemicals like phosphoric acid, which impairs the body&rsquos absorption of calcium. &ldquoSo it isn&rsquot good for your bones,&rdquo Rissetto says.

Clams might be a good source of protein, but they lose most of their nutritional appeal once they&rsquore battered and deep-fried. A basket of just 20 fried clams serves up 380 calories and 20 grams of fat[10], which is about the same as a medium order of French fries[11].

Having a handful of this summer cookout staple isn&rsquot terrible. It&rsquos polishing off the whole family-sized bag (easy to do!) that can get you into trouble, says Goodson. All that grease will likely give you a bellyache, and the sodium will leave you bloated for sure. (You&rsquoll get 170 milligrams from a big handful of chips&mdashbut who eats just one?) &ldquoTry bringing snack-sized bags to the pool, or baggie up a big bag into individual portions,&rdquo she recommends. If a bowl of chips is out a party, make things easy for yourself and don&rsquot start munching if you don&rsquot think you&rsquoll be able to stop.

What happens when you slather corn on the cob with mayo, butter, and cheese? You turn a healthy veggie into an indulgent treat that packs around 434 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 670 milligrams of sodium. This is one carnival snack that you can skip.

Ah, another example of a perfectly healthy protein turned into a diet derailer. Four ounces of simple grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast has just 171 calories and 4 grams of fat. But battered and deep fried, it manages to deliver a meal&rsquos worth of calories (467!) and fat (25 grams!).

It&rsquos seafood, so it&rsquos a healthier choice than a burger or hot dog, right? Not necessarily. &ldquoThey&rsquore usually made with tons of mayo,&rdquo Rissetto says. &ldquoDepending on how they&rsquore prepared, they can be the nutritional equivalent of two Big Macs.&rdquo

How bad can this protein be? Pretty bad. A 6-ounce serving of beef ribs packs 13 grams of saturated fat (nearly a days&rsquo worth) while half a cup of BBQ sauce serves up 47 grams of sugar. Put those two together, and it&rsquos the calorie and sugar equivalent of eating two slices of strawberry cheesecake.

Refined carbs from the pasta and fat from the mayo turns this summertime side into a calorie bomb that&rsquos virtually void of nutrition. The good news? You can make it healthier. Swap the white pasta for whole wheat (it&rsquos higher in fiber) and make a creamy, protein-packed dressing with nonfat Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and garlic powder, Rissetto recommends. If you want to mix things up a bit consider making one of these other healthy pasta recipes.

With nearly half a day&rsquos worth of saturated fat per 4-ounce serving, the pork shoulder used to make pulled pork isn&rsquot exactly lean. It only gets worse when you drown the meat in sugary barbecue sauce, stuff it in giant, fluffy white bun, and pile on the coleslaw. The total damage? Nearly 770 calories, 27 grams of fat, and 61 grams of sugar. You might as well have an ice cream sundae instead.

How can you make a sugary treat even worse for you? Dunk it in batter and deep-fry it until crispy and golden. &ldquoThere&rsquos not much nutrition you can attribute to these. They&rsquore truly treat foods,&rdquo Goodson says. Have a bite at the annual summer fair if you must. More than that is a bad idea&mdashunless you want to end the night feeling sick.

You wouldn&rsquot scarf down 12 teaspoons of plain sugar, would you? Because that&rsquos exactly what you&rsquore doing when you eat a 2-ounce serving of cotton candy. If you must indulge, split it with a group of friends and enjoy just a bite. Or have it with a protein-rich meal (like a turkey sandwich) to minimize the blood sugar spike, Goodson suggests.

Like cotton candy, these icy treats are pure sugar&mdasha standard 4-ounce snow cone from a carnival or fair packs about 48 grams of sugar. All that sweet stuff can cause your blood sugar to spike and crash, which can leave you weak and jittery. Factor in the sweltering weather, and you&rsquoll likely end up feeling even worse, Goodson says.

That sweet flavor isn&rsquot coming from the lemons, it&rsquos coming from sugar&mdashand lots of it: Just one cup of lemonade can deliver up to 4 teaspoons, according to the USDA. If you can&rsquot live without it, cut the sweet stuff by mixing half a cup of lemonade with half a cup of seltzer instead.

As far as summer desserts go, these concoctions are about as bad as it gets. All that buttery crust and sugary filling means a single slice will cost you around 360 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 20 grams of sugar, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says. And that&rsquos not even counting the scoop of vanilla ice cream, which is practically mandatory.

It might feel more virtuous than a soda, but don&rsquot kid yourself. A single glass of sweetened iced tea has 122 calories and a day&rsquos worth of sugar. Which is about the same as what you&rsquod get from a small can of cola.

Meats like beef, pork, fish, or poultry that are cooked using high-temperature methods like grilling can form heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic carbons (PAHs)&mdashchemical compounds thought to be potential carcinogens, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For safer grilling, flip your meat frequently to help keep the surface from getting too charred. You can also cut away any blackened bits before eating, recommends the NIH.

These drinks are loaded with sugar, thanks to the addition of fruit juice to make them extra sweet. In fact, you&rsquoll get more sugar in an 11-ounce wine cooler than from a 2-ounce bag of Sour Patch Kids. If you&rsquore not a fan of the taste of straight wine, try cutting a glass with club soda to lessen the saccharine load, Rissetto says.


8 trusty tips for hosting a cookout in a public park (no holiday required)

We are about to officially roll into peak cookout season, with two big backyard holidays on the horizon. Memorial Day is nearly here, and the Fourth of July isn’t far behind. These are always among the most popular occasions for cookouts on the calendar, but why is all the focus on just two days? When you have a cookout, you can make almost any other day feel like a holiday — and without all the stress or packed grocery stores.

Cookouts are inherently festive no matter when you have them, a chance to eat casually without the formality of a sit-down, or even indoor, party. Everyone pitches in, and if done right, the burden never falls on one person.

One way to ensure the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit is to host a cookout at a public park. When no one is the official host (you may want to designate one person as the organizer, however), it encourages guests to pitch in on the food — potluck! — and cleanup. Especially when you live in an urban area, parks give anyone the opportunity to throw a party.

A few weeks ago, the Voraciously team got together for our own cookout at Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington. Here are lessons culled from our experience.

Delegate. Even if you’re the organizer, don’t expect to be able to do everything on your own. Try to come up with a system for people to sign up to bring food and other necessary items, whether it’s through Evite, a Google doc or a physical sign-up sheet at your office. Figure out who has a car to help transport large items. You might also want to assign someone when the event is over to be in charge of doing a final rundown of the site to make sure nothing is left behind and you’re leaving it in as good (or better!) shape as you found it. Don’t be shy about asking for assistance when you need it.

Read up on park rules and the details of your site. Check to see if you need a permit or a reservation. Pay attention to the number of people allowed and what equipment (generators, sound systems, etc.) may not be allowed. Can you bring alcohol? What about pets? See if there’s a source of running water and, of course, a grill. When we found out the day before our cookout that our site didn’t actually have the grill the park website claimed it did, a last-minute purchase of a tabletop model saved the day.

Plan your food. This is why you want to have a pretty good idea of how many people are coming and what they’re bringing. For mains (hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.), count on about one per person, though you should have a few extra. For sides and salads of the non-lettuce variety, try to have about 1/2 to 1 cup each per person. Account for at least one dessert serving per person, but too much dessert is rarely a problem. Bring zip-top bags and/or plastic containers for packaging leftovers.

Have all the tools you need for grilling. Barbecue and grilling expert Steven Raichlen, author of “Project Fire” and host of the new public television series of the same name, suggests a few must-haves: A wire brush or wood scraper for cleaning grates, spring-loaded tongs with long handles, a pair of suede grilling gloves and an instant-read thermometer for checking meat. As to that wire brush, despite stories of people ingesting the bristles, “you’re as likely to win the lottery, with happier results of course,” Raichlen says. But you can also choose to use a balled-up piece of aluminum foil held in your tongs (and you’ll likely want foil for other uses anyway). A spatula you can use to flip burgers can be useful, too.

Don’t forget other necessities. You’ll want to bring trash bags (you can have separate ones for regular trash and recycling), paper towels (in addition to the napkins and tableware people will be eating with), hand sanitizer, water, sunscreen and bug spray. Try to have all these items in a central location so people can have easy access to them.

Practice smart food safety. Raichlen says it’s important to have a constant source of ice and to be sure to keep meat cold until it hits the grill. Avoid cross-contamination: Have separate cutting boards for raw and cooked meat. Be sure to keep other cooked food or items to be eaten raw (salads, fruit, etc.) clear of raw meat, as well. Keep foods cool in an insulated cooler with ice, frozen gel packs or even frozen food. To avoid having to root around and open the coolers too often, fill and label them according to category. Some serving trays have built-in compartments for ice that are handy once the food is out for serving. Check out Foodsafety.gov for more specific recommendations on cookout safety.

Bring games. What’s a cookout without some friendly competition? Think cornhole, croquet, Wiffle ball, ladder toss, bocce or Voraciously’s game of choice, KanJam (a little like disc golf).

Be flexible. It’s a cookout: It’s outdoors, and there are a lot of people. Something will inevitably go wrong. That’s okay! Be prepared for contingencies, and have a friend or two you can rely on to help you in a pinch. As long as you have a sufficient supply of food and drinks — a sense of humor helps, too — everything will be all right.

So what did we eat at our cookout? Here’s a rundown of the recipes (which we’ll be adding to all week):


6 Delicious Low-Calorie Cookout Recipes

Grilling for good health is easy when you&rsquore manning the barbecue this summer. Each delicious recipe here clocks in at less than 400 calories&mdashand we don&rsquot skimp on the meat or sausage, either, so your cookout is sure to please the whole family.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 6

1/4 lb fresh chorizo, casing removed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/4 c chopped garlic
1 bottle (12 oz) light beer
1 bottle (8 oz) clam juice (we used Bar Harbor)
2 lb mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1/2 lb peeled and deveined large shrimp
1/2 c chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Prepare grill for medium heat.

2. Cook chorizo in oil in large cast-iron skillet (or grill-safe pan) on grill, stirring and breaking up lumps, 4 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and pour in beer. Return pan to grill and simmer until beer is reduced by one-quarter.

Handy tip: Heat-resistant potholders are necessities when handling a hot cast-iron skillet on the grill. Buy flexible ones that fit your hand size and have silicone grips.

3. Add clam juice, mussels, and clams. Simmer, covered, removing shellfish to large shallow serving bowl as they open, about 10 minutes (discard any that do not open). Stir in shrimp during last 3 minutes and cook through. Add remaining cooked shellfish and broth mixture to bowl.

4. Add parsley and lemon juice to bowl and carefully toss shellfish to combine. Serve immediately.

Nutrition (per serving)
314 cal, 32 g pro, 12 g carb, 1 g fiber, 12.5 g fat, 3.5 g sat fat, 641 mg sodium

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes + marinating and standing time
Servings: 4

1/2 c finely chopped cilantro
1/2 c finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 c sherry or red wine vinegar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb pork tenderloin
1 red bell pepper
1 fresh poblano chile pepper
1 can (15.5 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained

1. Whisk together first 5 ingredients with 1/2 tsp salt. Reserve 1/2 cup of mixture for sauce and pour remaining into zip-top bag. Add pork to bag and marinate 30 minutes at room temperature.

2. Prepare lightly oiled grill for medium heat. Remove sides from peppers, discarding stems and seeds. Lightly coat with olive oil spray.

3. Remove pork from marinade (discard marinade). Grill pork and peppers, turning, until peppers are charred and tender and meat is cooked through, about 10 minutes for peppers and 25 minutes for pork. Let tenderloin stand, covered, 10 minutes, then slice.

Handy tip: Use an instant-read thermometer to make sure this lean cut stays juicy. Remove the pork when you get a 145°F reading the temperature will keep rising while the pork rests.

4. Remove skin from peppers and chop while pork rests. Toss with beans. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

5. Serve pork on top of beans and drizzle with reserved sauce.

Nutrition (per serving)
318 cal, 28 g pro, 15 g carb, 4 g fiber, 15 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 546 mg sodium