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TL;DR: Looking for evidenced based methods for low-sodium food prep. to be cooked on a barbecue.


My wife has recently confessed that she doesn't like BBQ food as it is too salty! Normally, I use the BBQ during the week as a quick easy meal as you can have a decent meal (burgers or dogs or even grilled veggies) in like 15 minutes. On weekends, I do roasts or steaks or chicken (basically anything more time consuming).

However, since this revelation I am determined to find a middle ground because:

  1. she is right, we need to consume less salt and less meat
  2. I like BBQ.

Here is what I have tried thus far:

  • I have made my own burger patties (instead of using Costco's) this went over well but flavour was lacking (I confess, historically I have been too lazy and will be tweaking my recipe).
  • I have tried store bought low-sodium dogs and smokies but it was still too salty.

This has been going on for about 2 weeks now, of different trial and error. So what I am wondering is what are tried and true methods of fast, easy cooking on a BBQ that are both tasty and low in sodium (or effective means of replacing sodium, but not sacrificing taste).

While, I realize that this question could end up being flagged for being opinion based so please provide either experience or evidence to help me. I am looking for methods or tricks to employ that will allow me to maintain the quick/convenient cooking that comes with BBQ food but is healthier and hopefully low enough in sodium.

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    A note that this question is not about "health" but specifically about reducing sodium in grilled food. No one needs to get triggered by the word "healthy" and vote to close this question. :/ – Sobachatina Jul 25 '19 at 17:12
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    @Sobachatina changed the title just in case ;-) – Stephie Jul 25 '19 at 17:42
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    This is about grilling, not BBQ. – Chris Cudmore Jul 26 '19 at 17:27
  • @ChrisCudmore terminology varies. One person's "grill" is another's "BBQ", while my "grill" would be a "broiler" to some. I think it's clear what the OP is aiming for and how they're cooking it – Chris H Jul 27 '19 at 19:17
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    For the record! I tried suggestions from each of the below answers and the one I marked correct was the answer that I found met the needs of my family and the question. Thank you all for your insights - and help. I learned from each of you! – J Crosby Jul 30 '19 at 14:40
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I've been cooking saltless for more than two decades by now and the secret is:

Use thrice as many herbs without salt as you would when cooking with salt.¹

Salt is just the cheapest of all flavours out there, so industrial cooking will use salt as a primary giver of taste as it's cheap!

Additional evidence-based methods:

  • Smell:
    • use fresh herbs as they contain water-soluble aromas
    • use aromatic oils (Olive oil, walnut oil, hemp seed oil (if legal in your area), pumpkin seed oil, ...)
    • use aromatic alcohol: WARNING: Use a shot glass, not an entire bottle or you'll burn down the house / neighbourhood / county / entire state!²
      A nice splash of Jack Daniels some Tennessee Rye on a steak and in the coals (fill shot glass 10 yards away from BBQ, store the bottle same distance, walk to BBQ, throw on meat and coals 2 feet away, pull back hand immediately) just gives that extra jazz and taste...
  • Fat:

    • Although you have to have the gentic predisposition to taste fat, kobe beef is so tasty because of its fat content: the more fat, the more taste!
    • See aromatic oils above
    • Fat fish! (Added after inspecting your avatar): Salmon, Halibut, Herring, ...
  • All the other tastes the human tongue is capable of:

    • Sweet. Use complex sweeteners like:
      • Honey
      • Molasses
      • Maple Syrup
    • Bitter:
      • Wrap that lamb shank in freshly mown grass from your garden: It'll not only provide moisture but a hint of bitterness as well³
      • Belgian Endives
      • Peppermint (a total must with lamb in Australia!)
      • Sorrel
    • Sour
      • Balsamic vinegar
      • French mustard (contains much more vinegar than English mustard)
    • Umami

      • Soy sauce
      • Broccoli extract (when cooking broccoli: evaporate 90% of the water and store the leftover in a jar to pour over your veggies before and during BBQ)
      • Mono-Sodium Glutamate
    • Spicy:

      • Chillies, Jajapeños, Hungarian paprika, ... contain Capsicum which doesn't really have a "taste" all by itself, but Capsicum "excites" your tongue and opens up all the other taste receptors so the intensity of the sweetness, sourness, bitterness, ... gets exacerbated.
    • Mix of all of the above:

      • French mustard and molasses mixed together until you cannot taste neither the molasses nor the mustard (perfect equilibrium) smeared over a nice piece of juicy bacon, add some pepper and nutmeg and throw on the BBQ: No one will believe you when you tell them this just tastes of mustard and brown sugar
      • honey, pepper, nutmeg and jalapeño blend: just throw all of them in a blender and add more honey, more pepper, more nutmet until it's just right for your wife!
      • Ask your wife which is her favourite taste and her second favourite taste and throw a bunch of those in the blender and leave a comment as to what rocks her soul!

Note 1: People will just go Really? This is saltless? unless they're methheads saltheads...
Note 2: If living in the Republic of California
Note 3: Skip this if you use pesticides, anti-moss, chemical fertilisers, ... on your lawn. Absolutely go for it and wrap it in tin foil if your lawn is totally organic!

  • "...Chillies, Jajapeños, Hungarian paprika, ... don't really have a "taste" all by themselves...." -- They certainly do! – Greg Nickoloff Aug 2 '19 at 16:47
  • @GregNickoloff Sorry, for overgeneralising: edited – Fabby Aug 3 '19 at 15:03
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If you make your own burgers you don't need to include any salt at all. You could make them unseasoned but you may find you enjoy them more if they've got herbs/spices in them. This also holds for sausages if you can be bothered to make them. Marinades don't need any salt either, though of course you may choose to add a little. Spring (salad) onion and garlic are very useful if you're reducing the salt.

Grilled veg is often best simply brushed with oil. I like to use chilli oil or pizza oil (chilli and herb). Along with steaks, chicken etc. you can also brush with a little oil and rub in spices or herbs.

Many sauces you might add after cooking also contain a fair bit of salt. Making your own or choosing ones that taste less salty will also help. Ketchup, for example, varies a lot in salt content.

You're probably used to fairly salty food, but your tastes can adjust fairly quickly.

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    Yes. Fresh food has minimal salt. Grill her food with no salt. Pork roast with smoking chips, with meat treated with brown sugar, black pepper and garlic powder turns out fine for me. People can salt or sauce their own portions according to taste. Plus she will like that you did the no salt grilling because of her observation and when momma is happy everyone is happy. – Willk Jul 27 '19 at 18:48
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First, stay away from buying pre-seasoned/marinated foods. While lots of people like them, many others find them too salty. For most foods, you probably just need to adjust the seasonings to you and your family's liking. You can experiment on your own or find recipes that can be tweaked to your liking. (We don't share recipes on the site.)

As far as buying low sodium foods, be aware that just because they are low sodium, it doesn't mean they won't taste salty. Many products use other ingredients such as potassium chloride to create a salty flavor without actually using sodium chloride (or using less). (Potassium chloride is sold as a salt substitute.)

Specifically for hot dogs and the like, try cooking them over a lower heat or for less time. The longer they cook, the more moisture they lose, thus making them taste saltier. I would suggest trying different brands (as they do vary in taste quite a bit) and perhaps you will hit on one you like.

In regard to roasts, chicken, chops, etc., you can use less salt if you season them and let them set for a bit before cooking. You can lightly season early in the day and place in the refrigerator for cooking later in the day. Or, what I usually do is season and let the food rest on the counter for 20 or 30 minutes before cooking. Just remember to not leave your food on the counter for too long for reasons of food safety.

Seasoning tip - As you start to experiment with seasoning your own foods, especially ground meat dishes) use your nose. Over time you will know by smell if you have them seasoned properly. Whenever I make burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, etc., I eyeball the seasonings. After mixing everything together I can tell by how it smells if it's on point or if I need to adjust anything.

And lastly, remember to start with smaller amounts of seasonings. You can always add more, but you can't take it out if there's too much.

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Plant an herb garden: Basil, Rosemary, Oregano, Parsley and Tarragon.

In my garden, Greek Oregano grows like stink and I actually have to harvest a couple of times a week to keep it from taking over.

My basic technique is to harvest a good cup of herbs, throw it in the blender with a clove of garlic, oil and lemon juice and puree it. It can be added directly to hamburger mixes, or used as a marinade overnight, or even as a rub before grilling if you haven't planned ahead.

Also, chopped tarragon on naan brushed with olive oil is spectacular.

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