Outdoor grilling (or barbequing, if you like) is a favorite summer pastime. Although I know some hearty New Englanders who grill (a.k.a. “cook out”) year-round, even in the midst of a blizzard. With the dog days of summer here, it seems as American as, well, apple pie to fire up the grill and start cooking. Whether you prefer charcoal or gas, grilling is an easy way to get out of a hot kitchen. It can also be a healthful way of cooking, too, if you keep in mind the following pointers.
Tip #1: Clean your grill safely.
A clean grill is important. But what you clean it with is probably even more important. Skip the wire bristle brush. Those bristles can easily break off, end up in your food, and make their way into your stomach or intestines, causing some serious damage.
• Ditch the wire brush and, instead, choose a coil brush, a wooden scraper, or even some crumpled up aluminum foil for cleaning.
Tip #2: Marinate.
Marinades are a great way to add flavor and tenderize tougher cuts of meat. There’s another reason to marinate: doing so can lessen or prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are potentially cancer-causing substances. HCAs have been linked with a higher risk of breast, prostate, stomach, pancreas, and colorectal cancers. Studies show that marinating can reduce carcinogen formation by more than 90%.
• If you don’t have time to whip up your own marinade, consider this: Store-bought marinades that contain herbs and spices such as thyme, oregano, red or black pepper, basil, parsley, and/or onion are good options; these ingredients contain antioxidants that may offer protection against HCA formation. (However, keep in mind that store-bought marinades may have their fair share of sugar and sodium, too, so always read the Nutrition Facts label).
Tip #3: Watch the fat.
Does your mouth water at the smell of a juicy steak or burger blazing away on the grill? Savor the smell, but go easy on the fat. Unfortunately, higher-fat meats mean that fat can drip onto the coals during cooking. When this happens, dangerous substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. Not only can these substances raise cancer risk, they can also increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease.
• You can lower your risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease if you a) choose leaner cuts of meat and trim away visible fat; b) place a layer of foil or a metal pan between the meat and the coals to catch drippings; and c) scrape away any charred pieces of meat. Also, don’t forget that chicken and fish are great on the grill, too. Be prepared to move the food away from any fatty flare-ups.
Tip #5: Resist the rare.
OK, so you like your burgers or steak rare. Realize, though, that the rarer you cook (or is it uncook?) your meat, the higher your chances of getting a nasty — and dangerous — case of food poisoning.
• Don’t go by the inside color of your meat to determine if it’s done. Instead, have a meat thermometer handy. Burgers and dogs should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F. Cook steak, fresh pork, and fish to a minimum internal temperature of 145°, and chicken or turkey to 165°.
Tip #6: Don’t forget the veggies.
Grilling your vegetables is an easy and tasty way to enjoy them. Even if you’re not a vegetable lover, you might enjoy grilled veggies, as grilling helps to bring out flavor. Plus, vegetables are a lower-carb, lower-calorie way to enjoy summertime cookouts. And go ahead and enjoy grilled corn on the cob or tomatoes: the heat from the coals actually boosts the activity of healthful antioxidants and phytochemicals.
• Pick up wooden or metal skewers and make your own veggie-bobs: mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, peppers, and onions are great on the grill. Brush them with light coating of olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, and your favorite seasoning.
• Another way to cut calories: alternate chunks of vegetables with pieces of lean meat, chicken, or shrimp on a skewer.
• Slices of eggplant or Portobello mushroom make great substitutes for meat.
Tip #7: Enjoy some dessert!
Who said you can’t grill your dessert? OK, ice cream is out, but there is plenty of fruit to choose from. The heat will soften and enhance the flavor of most fruits.
• Try grilling peaches or nectarines, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, and bananas. Skewers work well for pieces of fruit; otherwise, try putting slices of watermelon or whole apples directly on the grill.
• Don’t choose fruit that’s overripe; otherwise, it may fall through the grill slats.
• Lightly brush your fruit with a coating of oil, such as safflower or grapeseed oil. If desired, sprinkle with cinnamon or your favorite sweetener — although, the fruit may be sweet enough!
Tip #8: Cut the carbs.
Carbs aren’t bad, but it’s easy to overdo them if you like your burger or hot dog on a bun…along with the usual potato or macaroni salad.
• Instead of the same old, same old, try a lower-carb whole-grain pita bread, sandwich slims, or even a tortilla.
• Speaking of tortillas, why not try your hand at fajitas? Marinate lean steak strips, pieces of chicken, or shrimp with your favorite marinade. Cook directly on the grill. Choose your favorite veggies, such as bell peppers and onions, and cook them in a grilling pan. Lightly grill your tortillas (whole grain, of course) directly on the grill. Then, assemble your fajitas and top with salsa and a dollop of guacamole. Olé!