The Best Lean Meats You'll Want to Grill All Summer Long

Learn how to choose the best lean meats for grilling and save money in the process.

June 17, 2022

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Photo by: arinahabich/Getty

arinahabich/Getty

Grilling is one of the lightest ways to cook, but to keep it that way, you want to pick leaner meats. Not only are lean meats better for you, but they're better for your grill, too. Fatty meats drip more and can cause more flare-ups, which can, in turn, burn your foods. Grease dripping on your grill also wears out the grill's metal parts faster. Ready to cook lean meat? Here are the cuts to look for.

What Are Lean Cuts of Meat?

First off, here are the lean cuts of meat to look for:

  • Poultry: Skinless, white meat chicken or turkey; ground turkey breast (at least 90% lean)
  • Beef: Boneless strip steak, top sirloin steak, flank steak, tenderloin steak (filet mignon) and tri tip roast; 90% lean ground beef
  • Veal: Any trimmed cut
  • Pork: Boneless loin chop, tenderloin, center loin chop, sirloin roast and rib chop
  • Lamb: Look for the word “loin”
  • Game: Rabbit and buffalo
  • Game birds: Pheasant, quail and ostrich

The American Heart Association certifies many cuts of beef and pork as low in fat and saturated fat. When browsing the meat aisle, check packaging for their Heart-Check symbol. Also, fish is a lean protein. While fish is not technically "meat," you might try salmon, tuna, mahi mahi, halibut or tilapia; they’re all sturdy enough for grilling.

How to Cook and Serve Lean Cuts of Meat

Consider Portion Sizes

Think about it: You choose a lower-fat cut, but you eat 10 or 12 ounces of it. That sabotages your healthy efforts. Aim for 3 to 4 cooked ounces per serving (and 5 ounces of cooked fish) — that's about the size of your palm or your smartphone.

Beware of "Extra Lean" Meats

You may see “lean” or “extra lean” on some meats. According to guidelines, meats marked “lean” must contain less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3.5 ounces. Meats labeled “extra lean” contain less than 5 grams of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol. But be careful when grilling up anything that's "extra lean" — it may turn out rubbery or dried out.

Look at Cuts Before You Buy

When shopping, look for meats that have the least amount of visible fat. If the cut is marbled, that means it's streaked with fat. For burgers, remember that ground turkey or chicken can have as much fat as ground beef because they often have a mix of dark meat and skin. Make sure you pick ground breast meat — or look for low-fat ground chicken or turkey.

Shop In Bulk to Save

You can find lean cuts of meat and fish at club stores like Costco and BJs that are sold in bulk. You can then divide them into smaller portions to stash in your freezer until you’re ready to grill them. Target and Walmart also sell meats at a slightly lower cost. You can also check your market circular and pick up lean meats on sale.

Recipes to Try

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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