Grilling can be a healthy and delicious way to cook when you do it safely.
The longer days and warmer nights are a good sign it’s finally summertime. And when you step outside to the smell of grilled meat or barbecue sauce, you know it’s officially summer.
Summer is a great chance to get together with friends and family at outdoor barbecues and picnics. It’s also a great time to clean up the grill and change your cooking routine.
Grilling can be a healthy and delicious way to cook when you do it safely. Check out these tips to make sure you’re staying safe and getting the most health benefits out of your time at the grill.
Tips for Healthy Grilling
- Choose healthy proteins to grill. While hot dogs and sausages are some of the foods we put on the grill most often, these two meats are highly processed and high in fat and sodium. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), too many processed food leads to weight gain and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Instead, choose lean beef and pork products (with less than 10% fat), chicken, turkey or fish. These proteins are leaner and healthier for you. You can grill salmon, build chicken kebobs with colorful veggies, or even try turkey burgers.
- Pay attention to how you season your food. Many barbeque sauces and other thick marinades are high in sugar and fat. Consider using dry seasonings and herb mixtures or light marinades on your food. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers this recipe for a healthy universal marinade to use on meats and veggies. The AHA also has recipes for homemade condiments that offer healthier ways to enjoy your favorite dipping sauces.
- Grill your veggies. We often think about burgers and brats when we grill, but you can just as easily grill your veggies as a nutritious alternative. Rub them with a healthy marinade or a little olive oil to prevent them from sticking to the grill or get an inexpensive grill basket to keep them together. Try asparagus, peppers, corn, mushrooms, or zucchini.
- Choose healthy sides. At summer picnics, we often see side dishes of thick potato salad, creamy mac and cheese, and more. Try lightening up your sides this summer with healthy fruits and cold salads. Here’s a recipe for Mediterranean chickpea salad. It’s easy and quick to pull together and includes chickpeas, cucumber, tomatoes, and bell peppers for a light summer salad. You can also use skewers to make fruit kabobs for a fun twist on fruit salad.
- Grill your dessert. You can grill fruit too! The natural sugars in fruit will caramelize in the high heat, making them extra sweet and delicious. You can try sliced apples, peaches, pears, or pineapple. Here’s a recipe for grilled summer fruit from the Food Network.
Tips for Safe Grilling
- Keep your meats cold. According to the FDA, food should be kept at 40 degrees or below to prevent bacterial growth, so leave your meats in the fridge or the cooler until you’re ready to grill. If you’re marinating ahead of time, stick the meat back in the fridge until you’re ready to grill it.
- Separate your food. Keep raw meat away from fruits, veggies and any other foods you’re going to eat to avoid bacterial cross-contamination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should cut and season raw meats on a different cutting board or surface than the other foods and keep your utensils separate as well. If you use a marinade on your raw meat, toss the extra marinade. Don’t reuse any marinade that has touched raw meat.
- Wash your hands. Whenever you handle raw meat, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly. Guidelines recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water. Learn more about proper handwashing with Hand-washing 101: Why It Matters.
- Grill your meats until they’re safe to eat. Cook your food to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that can make you sick. Don’t just look for a brown outside on your meat to decide if it’s done. To be certain, insert a food thermometer into the thickest part of the meat to measure the inside temperature and make sure to cook it until it reaches a safe temperature. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a safe minimum internal temperature chart you can use as a guide.
- Keep your food covered. When you’re done grilling, keep your food covered to prevent insects from landing on it and leaving germs on your food.
- Avoid charring. According to the National Cancer Institute, when muscle meat, such as beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked at a high temperature over an open flame (like on a grill) and gets charred, it can deposit chemicals onto your meat which may increase the risk of certain cancers. The National Cancer Institute suggests that concerned individuals can reduce their exposure by using several cooking tips while grilling:
- Cut off excess fat from your meat to limit flare-ups that can char it.
- Flip your meat often to avoid charring.
- Use a microwave to cook your meat prior to exposing it to the high temperature of your grill. This can also reduce the time your meat is in contact with the high heat.
- Put tin foil under the meat and poke a few holes in it. This will allow less juice to drip down into the grill and less smoke to reach the meat.
- Cut off any deeply charred parts of the meat before eating.
- Clean your grill thoroughly after each use to get rid of any charred food that is stuck to the surface.
You may already have your grilling favorites, but here are some healthy recipes to try the next time you’re ready to try out the grill:
- Grilled chicken taco salad bowls – This recipe uses seasoned grilled chicken as a base and includes lots of healthy extras like black beans, corn, tomatoes, lettuce and more.
- Honey soy grilled salmon with edamame – This recipe uses an herb mixture that you stuff into the salmon before grilling and is served with edamame, which is high in protein and low in calories.
- Grilled portobello burger with onion jam – Try this in place of your next burger night. With the grilled flavor and onion jam on top, you might not notice the difference!
- Grilled pineapple chicken and grilled fish tacos – These are two recipes from MyPlate that offer a low-fat protein option and summer fruits such as pineapple and mango for some added sweetness.
Here are a couple of healthy sides to pair with your grilled foods.
- Marinated vegetables – You can use a ton of fresh summer vegetables in this recipe can be served cold.
- Scallion Sweet Potatoes – Add these cubed sweet potatoes wrapped in foil to the grill while you’re cooking something else for an easy and healthy side.
Enjoy your cookouts this summer and keep them fun, healthy and safe!