Have you ever wondered how to eat keto at a barbecue restaurant? In this post I’ll share what are the best (and worst) foods to eat at a BBQ restaurant, where to look for hidden carbs, and tips to make your night out keto friendly.
The best keto BBQ choices are smoked or grilled meats, like brisket, steak, burgers, and pulled pork, without sauce. Safe side dishes are collard greens, green beans, and broccoli. Salads with protein, cheese, bacon and low carb veggies are a YES, and feel free to douse with blue cheese dressing, Ranch or Caesar. Definitely use caution with barbecue sauces because most are high in sugar and carbs. Many smoked or grilled meats are prepared with a rub, and white or brown sugar is often an key ingredient. A little sugar over a big ol’ hunk of meat, like a brisket or pork butt, is no big deal, but when a chicken leg is coated with a sugary rub, beware of carbs.
Beware of obvious high carb choices like breads, buns, baked potatoes, French fries, potato salad, corn, baked beans, and mac & cheese. Most BBQ restaurants have online menus so you can prepare in advance, check out the nutritional information (if provided) and go into the restaurant confident in your keto choices.
In this post you will find:
Three strategies you can use when dealing with any restaurant on a keto diet.
How to find hidden sources of sugars and carbs at a barbecue restaurant.
Keto “red light” foods - what not to eat.
Keto “caution” foods - be sure these choices are low carb.
Keto “green light” foods - enjoy these at your BBQ restaurant!
Go in with a plan: 3 ways to approach your keto barbecue restaurant meal.
Usually it’s not a complete surprise when we go out to eat, right? So there are really three ways to approach your meal. Choose what works best for YOU. I always have a plan in mind before I set food inside a restaurant.
1. Eat straight up keto.
This means you will eat a high fat, low carb, moderate protein meal. You know, like you do most of the time at home.
2. Eat a keto meal, but have a few bites of higher carb foods you really want.
If you can control yourself around carbs, it’s ok to plan a keto meal but have a few bites of a loaded baked potato, a spoonful of cheesy corn, or even a few nibbles of your friend’s carrot cake dessert.
A few bites of delicious high carb foods shouldn’t throw you out of ketosis, and your daily macros may still be spot on. But if you can’t stop at just a few bites, this strategy is not for you.
3. Have a carb up meal.
Do you really, really want an ear of roasted corn-on-the-cob dripping in butter? Or the cheesy potato bake that is legendary at your local BBQ spot? Maybe the brisket mac & cheese is calling your name. If so, you may want to do a carb up.
Carb ups are a good strategy once you are fat adapted to enjoy carbs on occasion. Generally it’s good to choose healthy carbs, like roasted sweet potatoes, or high sugar fruits like bananas, but you can also treat yo’ self to junkier carbs… like a hunk of cornbread at the barbecue restaurant!
Be a carb detective…Investigate the BBQ restaurant’s online menu.
Almost all restaurants have their menus online, so definitely take a peek at the menu before dining if possible. If your restaurant provides the nutrition facts, you’ve struck gold! BBQ restaurants are notorious for having hidden carbs, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions of your server. If they don’t know if an ingredient contains sugar or flour or another dicey ingredient, then can consult kitchen staff.
Where to find hidden carbs at a barbecue restaurant.
Obvious high carb culprits are breads, potatoes, desserts, and us keto women know all about avoiding. But there are two main sources of hidden carbs at BBQ restaurants:
Barbecue sauces; and
Dry (or wet) rubs on meats before cooking.
Most barbecue sauces are high in sugar and are not suitable for a keto diet.
As an example, the Rich & Sassy Dave's Original Recipe sauce from Famous Dave’s restaurant has a whopping 23g of carbs in just a two ounce (tiny!) serving! BBQ sauce is delish, no doubt about it, but you must decide if it’s worth the carbs.
Best sauce strategies? Ask if your food can be prepared “naked,” or have sauce served on the side and use it sparingly, if at all.
Many meats are prepared with a dry rub containing sugar before grilling or smoking.
If the nutritional information is not available on the menu or online, don’t hesitate to ask the server if the meats prepared with a rub containing sugar. Sugar in a rub is not always a horrible thing for a large cut of meat, like a pork butt or brisket. It only affects the outside of the meat and the quantity of sugar in your serving will be negligible.
Sugar rubs ARE a problem if you’re talking a small piece of meat, like chicken legs or chicken wings.
What NOT to eat at a BBQ restaurant when you’re following a ketogenic diet.
These foods are best avoided at a BBQ restaurant unless you have just a bite or two, or it is part of a planned carb up.
Don’t eat these BBQ main dishes if you want to eat keto.
Anything (ribs, chicken, salmon) that is cooked with sugary barbecue sauce.
Pulled pork or chicken, if it is mixed sauce.
Watch for foods described as “crispy,” “sweet,” “fried” or “battered.”
Stay away from these BBQ sides.
When ordering, don’t be afraid to tell your waiter to skip the bun or slices of bread that come as part of a BBQ platter. If a meal comes with fries, just ask to substitute with a veggie or salad.
Skip all bread including:
Avoid potatoes if you want to stay in ketosis:
cheesy potato bake
sweet potato fries
Nix the legumes:
Ham & beans or similar sides
Just say no to corn:
Corn on the cob
If you want to stay keto, run from:
battered fried foods, like onion rings, or fried chicken
sugary barbecue sauces (unless in small quantities)
croutons, tortilla strips, or other high carb salad ingredients/garnishes
desserts - I have yet to find a keto-friendly dessert at a barbecue joint!
Be a carb detective … these BBQ restaurant foods may not be keto.
Use a barbecue restaurant’s online nutrition facts or your server’s guidance to determine if these foods will fit into your keto plan:
Coleslaw. Many recipes contain sugar.
Smaller cuts of meat or fish that may have a BBQ sauce glaze or sugary dry rub.
Ribs, if cooked with sauce. (Example, at Famous Dave’s a half rack of ribs is 22g carbs, while a half rack of naked ribs is just 2 carbs.)
Veggie sides, like green beans. Usually these are safe, but it doesn’t hurt to check your restaurant’s nutritional information.
Soups and chili are commonly on the menu at BBQ joints. Avoid chili with beans, anything with dumplings, rice, potatoes, if you want to keep it keto. Definitely ask your server if you can’t find the nutrition information or ingredient list.
This is the best part! Here are some amazing choices if you want to eat keto at a barbecue restaurant! Remember, if in doubt, check for hidden sugars or carbs via the restaurant’s menu, nutrition facts, or server.
Best keto-friendly foods to eat at a barbecue restaurant.
shrimp cocktail (watch for cocktail sauce)
smoked wings (avoid sauces, except Tabasco)
stuffed mushrooms, if stuffed with cheeses and/or sausage, but be watch out for breadcrumbs or fillers
Keto-friendly main dishes:
Beef, pork, and chicken…
pulled chicken (without sauce)
pulled pork (without sauce)
“naked” beef or pork ribs
roasted, smoked or grilled chicken (beware anything described as “crispy,” “sweet,” “fried” or “battered,” and watch up for be mindful of rubs loaded with sugar)
smoked wings (without sauce)
steak (filet mignon, sirloin, KC strip, etc.)
catfish (if fried, ask if fish is breaded or battered)
Watch for breading, batters, glazes and sauces.
Keto-friendly side dishes at barbecue restaurants:
broccoli (or other low carb veggie)
green beans (often served with ham or bacon)
coleslaw – check ingredients as most coleslaw recipes have added sugar
Salads can be a great option on a keto diet! Caesar, blue cheese, regular Italian and Ranch tend to be dressings lowest in carbs. You can always opt for vinegar and olive oil. Just watch out for these non-keto ingredients:
maple-glazed pecans (or other nuts)
dried fruit, like Craisins
high sugar fruits like mango
any dressings labeled “sweet” or “honey”
fried tortilla strips
I hope you found this guide helpful in your quest to eat keto at a barbecue restaurant. Below I’ve included links to menus and/or nutrition facts for some popular BBQ chains:
Jim ‘n Nick’s BBQ: Menu.
Moe’s Original Bar B Cue: Menu.
Happy keto eating!
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