Summer just isn’t summer without the smoky, zesty flavor of food grilled outdoors. What’s more, when prepared and cooked properly, grilled foods can be healthy as well as delicious. Here are six healthy-grilling tips that every “grillmeister” should be familiar with:
#1 Choose healthier cuts
Healthy barbecuing begins with healthy meats. Think marinated white-meat poultry; fish steaks or filets; and leaner cuts of beef, such as tenderloin, flank, or sirloin. Use lean or extra-lean ground beef to make burgers (grill them over medium heat, rather than high, to retain the juices). Or, opt for healthier turkey—or even bison—burgers instead of beef.
Be sure to trim visible fat from meats and remove poultry skin before grilling. Sure, you could leave that chicken skin on until you’re ready to partake at the picnic table, but then you’ll lose any flavorful marinade or rub that you might have applied while grilling the chicken.
#2 Watch your meat serving sizes
Your eyes may tell you that you’re hungry enough to eat a half-pound burger or 16-ounce steak, but your stomach—and eventually your waistline—will pay a price for such an indulgence. Limit your burger patties to a quarter pound and your steaks to around three or four ounces. If you’re grilling brats or sausages, consider cutting them in half lengthwise before serving. Not only will that reduce their calorie and fat content by half, but they’ll also fit better on the bun.
#3 Don’t char your food
According to the National Cancer Institute, when meats are charred over high heat, certain cancer-causing chemicals—specifically heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)—are created and deposited on the meat. So, it’s important to avoid overcooking and flare-ups. Trimming excess fat is helpful in this regard because it reduces the dripping of fat that causes flare-ups as well as the smoke created when fat burns, which is also known to deposit carcinogenic chemicals on meat. If you do end up overcooking your meat, try to cut away any charred portions before serving.
#4 Use healthy marinades
Not only is marinating a great way to add flavor and complexity to your grilled foods, but it can also help prevent the formation of carcinogens on meats. Keep in mind, however, that not all marinades and sauces are created equal when it comes to nutrition. Choose spice- or citrus-based marinades as well as heart-healthy monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil. Be careful not to get carried away with the sweet stuff, such as brown sugar and molasses, which can really boost the caloric value of grilled foods as well as promote burning when used over high heat.
#5 Don’t make it all about meat
The barbecue grill is a much more versatile tool than we tend to think. While meats definitely taste better when grilled, the same can be said for many veggies—such as potatoes, zucchini, peppers, asparagus, mushrooms, onions, eggplant, and, of course, sweet corn—when they’re caramelized to perfection.
Think fruits aren’t fit for the barbecue grill? Think again! Apples, bananas, mangos, pineapple, coconut, pears, peaches, and plums are just a sampling of the fruits that are right at home on the grill. You can even grill firm-fleshed melons if the mood takes you.
#6 Don’t forget food safety
Just because you’re cooking in the great outdoors doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind with respect to food safety. The same basic precautions that apply when cooking in the kitchen also apply to the barbecue grill.
For example, be sure to keep raw meats refrigerated or in a cooler until you’re ready to grill them. All marinating should be done in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter or at grill-side. If you plan to apply some of the marinade to the meat once it’s been cooked, be sure to set aside a separate portion expressly for this purpose. Never reuse marinade that has been holding raw meat, poultry, or seafood on cooked food bound for the table—unless you boil it first to kill any potentially harmful bacteria. Also, never use utensils, dishes, or containers that have held or touched raw meat to handle cooked or other ready-to-serve foods.
To determine when grilled meats are cooked completely, don’t assume you can rely on visual cues, such as the color of the meat or the clarity of the juices. Instead, purchase a meat thermometer and check the internal temperature of the meat with the thermometer probe inserted into its center.
According to the USDA, safe minimum temperatures for popular grilled meats are as follows:
Poultry—165 degrees F
Ground beef—160 degrees F
Beef, pork, veal, or lamb steaks/chops—minimum of 145 degrees F
Fish—145 degrees F