Happy Low Carb Memorial Day!

pork and beef cooked on a grill for a low carb barbequeYou’ve got to love Memorial Day Weekend!  Not only is this the official beginning of summer (Forget about that June 21st thing.  We all know summer starts this weekend, and ends Labor Day Weekend!), not only will Miss Manners grant you permission to wear white shoes after this  weekend, not only do most of us have a long weekend off,  but it’s a holiday that isn’t centered around sugar. Hooray!

Memorial Day Weekend is Made for Low Carb

Indeed, what with all that cooking out, Memorial Day Weekend is just made for us low carbers.  Add in outdoor activities like camping, biking, boating, hiking, volleyball, or just tossing a Frisbee around, and you have a celebration where you might even drop a pound or two.  Hard to beat that.

So let’s talk cookout menus.  Of course, you know that you can have all the grilled steak, burgers, and chicken you want, and ain’t that an improvement over a low fat diet.  But don’t forget about the other grilling possibilities — how about grilling a whole salmon?  Skewers of shrimp or scallops?   How about a boned, rolled leg of lamb on the grill?  How about pork chops?  And don’t forget kabobs!

Hot dogs, brats, and smoked sausage all are popular, but these processed meats need to be approached with  caution.  Any time meat has been chopped up and re-formed, you can assume that some sort of sugar has been added.  Doesn’t mean you can’t have these at all, but it does mean that you want to READ THE LABELS and choose the ones with the least added carbohydrate.  Hot dogs run from 1 g of carb all the way up to 6 g of carb per link That’s a big difference.  (Unsurprisingly, the “lite” hot dogs are some of the highest in carbohydrate.)  Be wary of brats and smoked sausage; they tend to run between 1/2 and 1 gram of carb per ounce, and you know you’re eating more than an ounce or two.  Choose the lowest carb sausages you can find, and eat them in moderation – may half a brat,  and then a burger, too.

Buns are problematic.  You could wrap things in low carb tortillas, or use low carb bread, but I dropped wheat after reading Dr. William Davis’ Wheat Belly last summer.  Instead, let me introduce you to a startling new piece of technology:  The fork.  This amazing device lets you tidily transfer all manner of foods to your mouth without the use of any sort of breadstuff.  Available in reusable metal, or disposable plastic.  Highly recommended.

If you’ll be hanging out in the backyard,  consider slow-smoking.  This will turn out a rack of ribs that will make a grown man weep, but it’s wonderful for other foods, too.  Feeding a mob?  Try slow-smoking a turkey.  It takes… well, a long time; I’ve smoked a turkey for as long as nine hours.  But there’s nothing difficult about it, and the results are stellar.

The basics of slow-smoking are simple, at least if you have a propane grill:

  • Obtain some wood chips – apple, mesquite, hickory, any hardwood should do.  Avoid resinous woods like pine.  If you didn’t happen to have a huge oak tree fall in your backyard recently like some people I know <looks at the sky, whistling>, you can buy bags of wood chips in the barbecue section of your local discount or hardware store.  While you’re there, grab an oven thermometer, unless your grill has a thermometer built in.
  • Once you have chips, put them in a big bowl, cover them with water, and let them soak.  Give them at least a half-an-hour before you…
  • Light only one burner of your propane grill.  Put a drip pan under the grill over the unlit burner.  Put the oven thermometer in there.  Close the lid and let your grill heat – you want it around 250-275.
  • While that’s happening, season your meat with a dry rub.  Sprinkle it liberally all over.  Also mix a couple of tablespoons of rub with 3/4-1 cup of broth, water, or light beer, and a good 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil.  This will be your mopping sauce.
  • When the grill is up to temperature, put your meat over the drip pan.  Put a big square of heavy duty foil over the lit burner, and put a big handful of wet wood chips on it.  Close the lid.
  • After a half-hour, open the grill, baste the meat all over with the mopping sauce, and turn it over if practical.  (Don’t bother with a turkey.)  Check the temperature and adjust the burner if needed.   Put more chips on the foil, and close the lid again.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat – for a long, long time.  Ribs can be done in as few as 5 hours, or can take as long as 8. My turkey smoked 9 hours before the “bird’s-a-poppin’” timer popped out.  Gives you plenty of time to hang out with the family, run under the sprinkler, play croquet, whatever it is you like to do.
  • You can serve meat smoked this way with sugar-free barbecue sauce (properly called “finishing sauce,” to differentiate it from a mopping sauce), but if your rub and mop are good, you may find you don’t even want it.  If you can’t get sugar-free barbecue sauce locally, Stubb’s brandStubb's brand at Amazon.com is nationally distributed, and has half the sugar of most commercial barbecue sauces.  Tastes fantastic, too.

About condiments:  You know, of course, that ketchup is loaded with sugar — most have 4-5 g per tablespoon.   I make my own – Dana’s Ketchup is my most-often-repeated recipe – but Heinz Reduced Sugar is quite good.  You could skip the ketchup in favor of blue cheese melted on top, plus a little minced red onion.  Or top your burger with a grilled slice of Vidalia – yum!

Mustard is low carb, unless you buy honey-mustard or another sweetened variety. (Don’t!) Good old yellow mustard is great ( the brilliant color comes from turmeric, very healthful stuff), but don’t forget spicy brown, Dijon, even horseradish mustard.  Like sauerkraut on your dog?  Most sauerkraut has 1 g of carb or less in 2 tablespoons, and most of that is fiber, so go for it.  Mayonnaise you already know about.  And your basic hamburger dill pickle slices are fine.  Relish, on the other hand, is sweetened, with 3-4 g per tablespoon.  My grocery store carries sugar-free relish – also sugar-free bread-and-butter pickles.  If you’d rather skip the artificial sweetener, you can stir a few drops of liquid stevia extract into dill pickle relish.  This works well.

What are you going to eat with your meat?  Surely you would have thought of cut up vegetables and dip. If you haven’t yet tried your favorite potato salad recipe with cauliflower, you’re missing a trick.  I have yet to have a potato salad recipe not work out with this substitution.   If you don’t have a favorite potato salad recipe to adapt, here’s a new Unpotato Salad I invented just today.  Coleslaw is a favorite, and heaven knows it’s cheap to make.  My favorite coleslaw dressing is equal parts mayonnaise (I make my own to avoid soy oil, but that’s another article) and sour cream, with a little cider vinegar, spicy brown mustard, sweetener, and a smidge of salt.

Try wrapping mushrooms in bacon and impaling on skewers.  (If they’re bamboo skewers, soak ‘em in water first.)  Grill till the bacon is crisp.  These are called “Mushroom Bombs.”  Or try this from my friend Chad: Mix 8 ounces of cream cheese with a packet of ranch dressing mix.  Seed a bunch of jalapeno peppers, and stuff them with the cream cheese.  Now wrap each one in bacon, covering as much of the cheese as you can.  Hold the bacon in place with toothpicks you’ve soaked in water.  Like the Mushroom Bombs, grill till the bacon is crisp.  These are called “Oh, My God, These Are Amazing What Did You Do?!”  Well, not really.  But that’s what people will say.

Sweet corn is tempting, but it’s got 30 g of carbohydrate in a 5″ ear, almost none of which is fiber.  You could have half an ear, slathered with butter, and call it a modest Indulgence, if you like.  At least it doesn’t have a sky-high blood sugar impact.

Nuts and seeds are great for munching.  How about a plate of dill pickles?  I love those little snack sized guys.  Olives make great low carb pick-up food, too.  Low carb flax-and-soy tortilla chips are quite good.  It’s too late to order them online, but you can get them at Trader Joe’s.  Remember, though, they’re not really that low carb, and with corn and soy they’re definitely not for the paleo crowd.  I eat them maybe once or twice a year, but have to admit I enjoy them.

Watermelon seems like a fairly harmless Memorial Day dessert, but a 1 inch slice from a watermelon 10 inches in diameter has 32 g of usable carbohydrate, so go very easy. Cantaloupe is a lower carb choice.  A half a cup of cherries will “cost” you about 10 g, a  peach about the same, and a plum 9 g.

My favorite, though, is strawberries.  I’ll never forget the cookout the evening before my cousin Mark’s wedding, when some guests showed up with a huge flat of strawberries.  What a crowd-pleaser! A half-dozen average strawberries will have only about 3 grams of carb.

Insist on something frozen on a stick?  Sugar-free Popsicles taste just like the regular ones.  I don’t like the regular ones, but if you do, these will be your choice.  Sugar-free Fudgsicles taste just like the regular ones, as well.  These I like, though I buy them only infrequently.  The nice thing about either of these is that they come in controlled portions.

What are you going to drink with all this?  You know about diet soda and Crystal Light, but many of you are moving away from these beverages.  There are now natural sugar-free sodas, including Zevia and Blue Sky Free.  Too late to order these, but see if your local health food store carries them; mine do.  Zevia was very popular at last year’s Low Carb Meet and Greet.

My constant summer beverage is iced tea.  I recently tried sweetening iced tea with whole dried stevia leaf, and came up with these proportions: Tie together 8 Luzianne teabags and drop them in a half-gallon pitcher.  Add three tablespoons dried stevia leaf in a tea ball or tea balls (I used two.)  Pour in a half-gallon of boiling water.  Drop in two whole organic lemons (or conventionally grown ones you’ve scrubbed well) and let them heat for a few minutes.   Then use a tongs to pull out your hot lemons, and roll them firmly under the palm of your hand to loosen up the juice.  Halve them and squeeze every last drop of juice into your tea, discarding the rinds.   Let it steep till lukewarm, remove the teabags and ball, and chill.

Then there’s beer.  I’ve given up on beer out of the conviction that grains are not my friends.  However, there are quite a few beers in the 5 grams-or-fewer category.  Michelob Ultra, of course, but also Miller Lite, Milwaukee’s Best Light, Rock Green Light, Coors Light, and Amstel Light.  Of these, I always liked Amstel Light best — but kept Milwaukee’s Best Light on hand.

Low Carb Wine Spritzer

For a tall, cool, low carb beverage with just a bit of alcohol in it, try this:  Pour 2-3 ounces of dry wine over ice in tall glass.  Add ice, then fill with chilled unsweetened sparkling water, for a wine spritzer.  Vary this by choosing red or white wine, and differing flavors of sparkling water.  Chablis with lemon sparkling water will be quite different from burgundy with raspberry sparkling water.  If you’re a wine cooler fan, try making this with sugar free lemon-lime soda, instead.

Low Carb Margaritas

Put a shot or two of tequila in a tall glass.  Squeeze in a quarter- or half-lime, and add 10-12 drops of liquid stevia extract, or 5-6 drops of liquid Splenda.  Fill with chilled orange sparkling water.

So have fun!  Get some sunshine!  Grill something!  And have a great holiday weekend!!

For your next low carb barbeque, make sure you have Dana’s Low-Carb Barbecue Cook Book handy for 200 low carb recipes we know you’ll love.

Other low carb summer/barbecue articles by Dana Carpender:

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