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Grilling the Healthy way

There’s nothing like firing up the grill on a crisp summer night, smelling the smoky sizzle of chicken and charcoal while listening to sports scores on the radio. It seems that grilling is one form of cooking that many guys consider “theirs,” and it’s a method of cooking that also has a great potential to prepare very healthy meals. Making great grill meals that are also good for you doesn’t have to be complicated. See below for a simple guy’s guide to grilling the healthy way.

At the Store

Healthy grilling starts at the super market. Buy raw ingredients like beef and chicken last, so that their time spent unrefrigerated is reduced as much as possible. If a grocery store is set up with its fresh meat market before the non-perishable aisles, it can be a natural mistake to stop and get the meat first. A conscious decision to come back for it will help reduce any harmful bacteria. Try to refrigerate any perishable food within 2 hours of taking it off the shelf.

Another way that healthy grilling starts at the store is by choosing the right foods. Joy Bauer of MSNBC.com calculates that an average plate from a summer barbecue contains over 2000 calories. But you don’t have to cut down on flavor to cut down the calories. Instead of processed meats like hot dogs or brats, choose lean meats like skinless chicken breasts or fish. Veggies are an often-overlooked option for the grill. Veggie kabobs or corn on the cob make for great grill side dishes.

Before Grilling

Full thawing is not only a way to be healthy and safe, but a way to ensure even cooking (and therefore a better overall taste). The safest way is to thaw in the refrigerator beforehand, though sealed packages can also be thawed in cold water. Only thaw meat in the microwave if it will be placed directly on the grill afterward.

Marinating is not only a way to add flavor to your meat, but also a way to be healthy. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), some studies indicate that high heat on raw meat (like from grilling) can cause the formation of cancer-causing agents called Hetero-Cyclic-Amines, or HCAs. But marinating meat in an olive oil or citrus juice based marinade helps reduce the formation of these chemicals. Poultry and cubed meat can marinade safely up to two days; beef, veal, chops, or steaks can marinate safely up to five days.

Make sure you clean your grilling surface every time before you grill. A dirty grill can contribute to the formation of the HCAs.

Trim any visible fat from meat before grilling. Not only is this a healthier choice to reduce calories, but charred fat is also a very big cause of HCAs.

While Grilling

Flip meat often to avoid excessive high heat, which might cause charring. Charred meat or well-done meat is the most prone to the Hetero-Cyclic-Amines.

If you have a choice, grill on slats rather than on a flat grill. Slats or slots on a grill allow the fatty juices to run off, whereas a flat grill will hold them on the meat as it cooks, much like pan frying.

Cook meat over low, even heat. Not only does this allow for better flavor and texture, it helps to avoid searing or charring. Always cook meat thoroughly. Never partially grill with the intention of finishing your cooking later.

Grilling is not only a great way to enjoy the summer weather while cooking, it also has the chance to be a delicious way to eat right. By following these simple steps, guys everywhere can graduate from being just a guy who likes grilling to the gourmet grill guru.

Sources:

United States Department of Agriculture (http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Barbecue_Food_Safety/index.asp)

MSNBC Today contributor Joy Bauer (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/19568711/ns/today-today_grilling_guide_2008/)