Who doesn’t love a barbecue? It doesn’t matter the season or occasion; we can all agree that cooking outdoors brings families together for fresh air, some activity and great bonding. Since yesterday was the official start of spring, make your next dinner experiment exciting by pulling out your grill and tossing some of your favorite foods on for a mid-week culinary feast.

Considered a healthier way to cook instead of standing up over a stove top, grilling uses less oil, which in return garners that savory, hickory smokiness in each and every bite you take. Besides, what better way to expose your children to a fun, easy, interactive and tasty experience?

When we think of grilling, what usually comes to mind are hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, ribs, and steaks, and sides are usually baked beans, corn, salad and slaw. Today, with a few simple changes, you can make your barbecue into a healthy and budget conscious meal. You can change the typical barbecue fanfare with some delicious and healthy grilled fruits and vegetables along with your appetizers, main dishes and dessert. Seasonal produce is great on the grill and adds lots of bright colors for a festive table.

To give you a head start, here are some tips, ideas and recipes you can use to create a healthier barbecue spread:

Healthier Meats
-Marinate your chicken without the skin for about two hours.
-Look for lean red meats, like top sirloin.
-Select pork tenderloin for a leaner pork option.
-Look for hamburger or turkey ground meats that say “extra lean” on the package.
-Avoid all processed meats.
– Switch it up and try something new. Use kabobs are a great way to mix different meats and vegetables as well as reduce portion size.

Grilled Sides
-Slice onions into 1/2-inch thick rounds.
– Corn on the cob is an easy one, just remove the husks and rotate during grilling. Remove after about 10 minutes.
-Grill halved portabellos like a burger. Sprinkle with olive oil to prevent sticking.
-Asparagus spears takes just a few minutes with dressed with salt, pepper and olive oil. No need to cut; just grill the whole spear.
-Wrap whole potatoes in foil and grill for about an hour. Try sweet potatoes as a dessert alternative.

Grilled Fruit
-No more than 5 minutes per side per slice of fruit. Once the sugar starts to caramelize then you can take off the grill. Try apple, pear wedges, mangoes, grape, bananas and tangerines and create a tropical salad.
Now that you have read the tips, it now time to whip up a batch of your favorite drink and fire up the grill. In a few short hours you will have a meal for your family and plenty leftovers for the entire week.

Memphis-Style Hickory-Smoked Beef and Pork Ribs

Neely’s Dry Rub:
1 1/2 cups paprika
3/4 cup sugar
3 3/4 tablespoons onion powder
2 (about 4 pounds each) slabs beef spareribs
2 (about 3 pounds each) slabs pork spareribs
2 cups Neely’s BBQ Dry Rub
Neely’s BBQ Sauce, recipe follows

For the rub:
Add all ingredients to a bowl and stir until combined. Keep in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

For the ribs:
Rinse and dry ribs. Place on a clean cutting board and pull off the membrane, the thin fatty skin that lines the underside of the ribs. Trim the ribs of excess fat and meat. Liberally season both sides of the ribs with 1/4 to 1/2 cup Neely’s BBQ Rub. Wrap ribs and refrigerate for at least 8 hours so flavors can permeate.

Preheat grill to 250 degrees using hickory and charcoal.

Use indirect heat and cook with the cover down.

Place ribs, meatier side down, on the grill away from the coals. Cook beef 2 hours, adding more coals as needed. Turn and cook for 45 minutes more, or until the ribs “bend” and the meat easily separates from the bone using a fork. Cook the pork ribs 3 hours. Turn and cook another hour, or until ribs bend. Remove from grill.

For dry ribs: Sprinkle extra Neely’s BBQ seasoning over ribs, cut bones and serve.

For wet ribs: Coat ribs with Neely’s BBQ sauce, cut and serve.

Neely’s BBQ Sauce:
2 cups ketchup
1 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
5 tablespoons light brown sugar
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon ground mustard
In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to simmer. Cooked uncovered, stirring frequently, for 1 hour 15 minutes.

Jalapeno Buttered Corn

2 jalapeno chiles
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed
1 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese*

*Queso fresco is a fresh cheese found at Latin markets. A mild feta could be substituted.

Prepare a grill or grill pan to high heat.

Grill the jalapenos, turning them occasionally, until charred on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer them to a cutting board and let cool for 5 minutes. Keep the grill on high heat.
Using a small paring knife, peel the jalapenos. Scrape out and discard the seeds and veins. Coarsely chop the chiles and transfer them to a medium bowl. Add the butter, garlic, and parsley and mash together. Season the jalapeno butter with salt and pepper, to taste. Put a square piece of plastic wrap on a work surface. Spoon the jalapeno butter onto the center and roll it up into a 1-inch-diameter log. Refrigerate it until firm, at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 week.

Grill the corn on the hot grill or grill pan, turning occasionally, until it is browned in spots and the kernels are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer the ears to a platter. Top each ear with a pat of the jalapeno butter, sprinkle with queso fresco, and serve.

Grilled Tropical Fruit

Sweet island fruit is the perfect match for zesty jerk spices, and the grill caramelizes their natural sugars. You can leave the skin on — just slice plantains in half lengthwise and cut mangoes, pineapple or papaya into wedges or thick pieces. Brush with oil, then place flesh-side down on the hot grates and cook until marked and tender, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Serve alongside the hens or top with ice cream and caramel sauce for dessert.
All recipes courtesy of The Neelys, except the Jalapeno Grilled corn, via The Food Network.