In this blog post, I’ll review the question of whether BBQ chicken is healthy or not? Find out what this food’s nutrition pros and cons are, plus the best options to consider.

a bowl of bbq chicken surrounded by corn and beans.

BBQ Chicken Facts 

BBQ chicken is a popular dish made by grilling chicken pieces coated with barbecue sauce. The chicken is typically marinated or coated with the sauce before cooking to infuse it with flavor.

The chicken is then cooked until it reaches a safe internal temperature, ensuring it is fully cooked and juicy.

There are numerous BBQ sauces available commercially, each with its flavor profile and ingredients.

Common types include Kansas City-style, Texas-style, Memphis-style, Carolina-style, and more. Depending on the ingredients used, these sauces can have a sweet, smoky, tangy, or spicy taste. You can also choose to use homemade BBQ sauce.

Common ingredients in homemade BBQ sauce include ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, molasses, and spices.  

Chicken is an excellent source of high-quality protein, essential for the repair, maintenance, and growth of tissues in the body. It’s important to consume enough grams of protein per day from lean meats. Protein is part of a balanced diet and is important for maintaining muscle mass.

Chicken is also low in fat, especially skinless chicken breasts, high in vitamins and minerals, and low in carbohydrates. 

Barbecued chicken’s nutritional profile depends on factors like the cut of chicken used and the ingredients in the BBQ sauce. BBQ sauce can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on the chicken you use and what’s in the sauce.

Air fryer BBQ chicken legs piled up on a white plate.
Air Fryer BBQ Chicken Legs.

BBQ Chicken Ingredients

BBQ chicken has two primary ingredients: chicken and bbq sauce.

Here’s what you need to know about what type of chicken is best for barbecued chicken and what to watch out for in store-bought and homemade BBQ sauces. 


Chicken is a type of poultry. Free-range and hormone-free chicken is a high-quality protein that’s also low in fat. Lean, skinless cuts of chicken are particularly low in fat.

Chicken is low in carbohydrates and high in vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and especially phosphorus, which play a vital role in kidney function, cell growth and repair, and nerve function.

Poultry is an excellent source of protein and has lower levels of saturated fat than red meats. Choose chicken breasts or chicken thighs that come from organic or pasture-raised birds.

raw chicken on a cutting board.

BBQ Sauce – Store-Bought

Many store-bought barbecue sauces contain ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, tomato paste, vinegar, cornstarch or flour, liquid smoke, garlic, flavorings, colorants, preservatives, sugar, molasses, black pepper, and a lot of salt.

Some of these ingredients are not healthy, including these examples:

High fructose corn syrup is a highly processed ingredient that may cause health problems.

Research has shown that corn syrup can promote weight gain by increasing appetite. It may also cause inflammation, raise triglycerides, and contribute to fatty liver disease and diabetes. 

Artificial colors and flavors are generally unhealthy and can have health risks.

According to research, there is a link between autism and artificial food dyes. Some additives may cause hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in people. Although the FDA has approved some synthetic colors and flavors, it’s important to note that most unnatural additives have possible health risks. 

Preservatives have been linked to ADHD, heart problems, respiratory problems, headaches, and more.

Although the exact health risks depend on the type of preservative added to the BBQ sauce, preservatives overall are not considered healthy.

Liquid smoke is a popular ingredient in commercial BBQ sauces and adds a ton of flavor.

However, research shows that some commercial smoke flavorings are more toxic than cigarette smoke. Additionally, a byproduct of the smoking process called PAHs can be carcinogenic

Granulated sugar may come from sugar beets or sugar cane, and it may be slightly processed or highly processed. It should only be used in moderation, especially if it’s a highly processed product.

Some adverse side effects of too much refined sugar are diabetes, heart disease, emotional fluctuations, and weight gain. Research has also linked refined sugar to severe gastrointestinal problems like leaky gut syndrome. 

bbq sauce in a ramekin.

BBQ Sauce – Homemade

Homemade barbecue sauce is as healthy as the ingredients you use. Using real food ingredients and limiting sugar and salt, you can make a tasty sauce for your grilled chicken.

Making your own BBQ sauce is not that hard and gives you control over your ingredients. In general, homemade is a healthier alternative to bottled.

Use your homemade sauce as a healthier option to bottled. Serve your bbq chicken breasts plain or in bbq chicken bowls. YOu’re sure to have a meal that the whole family loves!

Here are some tips to create a healthier version of BBQ sauce as part of your meal prep:

  • Use maple syrup or honey to sweeten your sauce instead of refined sugar.
  • Skip the liquid smoke. High-quality maple syrup will give the sauce a slightly smokey flavor. Other options for a smokey flavor are smoked tea, garlic powder, a tiny pinch of smoked paprika, or chipotle powder if you like a spicy sauce. 
  • Use high-quality cold-pressed apple cider vinegar for added health benefits.
  • Use cornstarch or arrowroot instead of flour as a thickener for a gluten-free version.
  • Make the tomato base from scratch instead of using ketchup. Tomato sauce has fewer calories than commercially-prepared ketchup.
  • Use fresh garlic instead of processed garlic.
  • Use less salt to start. You can always add more.

Nutrition Pros

Chicken is high in protein, low in fat and carbohydrates, and contains vitamins and minerals. Using fresh tomatoes and other fresh, real food ingredients can give you health benefits. 

Eating homemade barbecued free-range chicken with a healthier, homemade BBQ sauce, avoiding charring at high temperatures, can be an excellent nutritional choice. Avoiding charred chicken over an open flame can help reduce your exposure to heterocyclic amines.

Try serving your boneless skinless chicken breast with steamed veggies and baked Japanese sweet potato fries for a perfect meal with high nutritional value.

instant pot bbq pulled chicken on a plate.
Instant Pot BBQ Pulled Chicken.

Nutrition Cons 

Store-bought barbecue sauces may contain unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, high quantities of added refined sugar and salt, synthetic colors and flavors, liquid smoke, and preservatives – all with potential health risks. 

Some brands contain gluten-containing ingredients, so they won’t be suitable for people with Celiac’s disease or who are gluten-sensitive. 

Additionally, barbecue chicken that has been cooked until charred may create polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which may be cancer-causing.


Is barbecued chicken healthy?

It depends. Not all barbecued chicken is equal! The nutritional benefits of this dish can vary depending on what type of sauce, which chicken cut you use, and whether or not the chicken gets charred during the cooking process. 

How can I make healthy BBQ chicken at home?

Use lean cuts of chicken, like the breast, and remove the skin. Make your own BBQ sauce using healthier ingredient options, and don’t char the chicken when you grill it. 

Why is charred food bad for you?

While charred meat and vegetables can be tasty, charred meat and fish are considered unhealthy because they produce compounds linked to an increased risk of cancer. 

Over-charring can degrade heat-sensitive vitamins like vitamin C and some B vitamins and destroy antioxidants. Another risk is that charring can create blackened, carbonized areas on the surface of the food that may harbor potentially harmful bacteria. Besides the health risks, excessive charring can overpower other flavors and cause your food to taste burnt.

Is barbecued chicken good for weight loss?

Because of its high protein content, chicken can help promote satiety and reduce hunger, making it beneficial for weight management.

Protein-rich foods like chicken can help increase feelings of fullness, potentially decreasing overall calorie intake.


If you love barbecued chicken and want to reap the benefits of eating high-quality lean protein, your best bet is to make it at home with real food ingredients. Store-bought BBQ sauces often contain unhealthy ingredients, and charring the meat during grilling can produce carcinogens. If you use lean, skinless cuts of free-range chicken and homemade BBQ sauce with real ingredients, and you don’t char the chicken, it is a healthy option.

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About the Author: Carrie Forrest has a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition. She is a top wellness and food blogger with nearly 10 million annual visitors to her site. Carrie has an incredible story of recovery from chronic illness and is passionate about helping other women transform their health. Send Carrie a message through her contact form.

Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.