You know it’s officially summer when you fire up your grill for the first time. While they go hand in hand, there are some dangers to regularly consuming grilled meat that you should be aware of. Before you bust those burgers out, take a few moments to consider how you can make your meals both delicious and healthy with these great summer grilling tips.
Preparing Your Grill
The first step is to get your grill ready. If it’s gas, check the hose from your propane to your burners and, if there’s any buildup, clean it off before starting your grill. Hoses can catch on fire, which is not how you want to launch your summer. If there are any holes, replace the hose. If your grill is charcoal, dump out the ash from last season and clean the insides with soapy water.
Next, take the grates out and scrub them down with a wire brush. Run your grilling tools through the dishwasher. If you didn’t do it last fall, clean out the grease trap underneath your grill.
Healthy Ways to Grill Your Meat
You’re ready to get cooking now. Fortunately, there are ways you can greatly reduce the risks associated with grilling. But what about the headlines saying grilled meat is bad for you?
It’s been widely reported that potentially cancer-causing compounds—polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs)— can result from grilling. PAHs form when fat from the meat drips and then flames up and is deposited on your burgers or brats. The simple, healthier, solution is to cook leaner cuts of meat like poultry and fish.
Unfortunately, the charring we find so delicious can contain PAHs. HCAs, meanwhile, are produced when red meat, poultry and fish meet high temperatures on the grill. One easy solution is to marinate the meat. Kansas State University researchers marinated steaks and found that, after grilling, carcinogens in the marinated steaks were cut by 57 to 88 percent versus non-marinated steaks.
Size also matters when it comes to grilling because the faster foods are cooked, the less likely it is they will develop charring. One option is to cube or slice meats into smaller portions. You can also choose meats that cook faster, like shrimp or fish. A bit of charring is inevitable but, if it’s excessive, trim it off before serving. Cooking meat over an indirect flame and frequent flipping are other ways to reduce harmful compounds.
Take Your Grilling to New Heights
One secret is to baste meat with salt water instead of using rubs or sauces. In Argentina, salt is largely the only seasoning used on grilled meats—a process called salmuera. Mix 1 cup water with 1 to 3 tablespoons of coarse salt and brush or spoon over meat a few times on each side while cooking.
Grilled fish can be tricky. Stick with a sturdier fish—like swordfish, salmon or tuna—that won’t break apart and fall through the grates. Find that your fish always sticks? A thin coating of mayonnaise keeps your fish tender and intact and, don’t worry, the flavor of mayo can’t be detected after cooking.
Don’t be an early saucer. While it seems logical that the more you sauce the better, barbecue sauce actually burns off fairly quickly and should only be added toward the end of cooking.
Beyond Grilling Meat
Grilling fruits and veggies does not have the same risks as meat—and we all know how good they are for you. They also combine well with those smaller cubes of meat we were talking about earlier. Sirloin, pepper and pineapple kebabs anyone?
Can you still grill juicy burgers and brats? Of course. Just think of them like a dessert—which is to say you don’t indulge every day. (And speaking of desserts, here’s a great one to make on the grill.)
Summer is a great time to start your commitment to a healthier diet-- including grilling in a body-friendly way. For more eating and healthy living tips, subscribe to our blog.