Healthy Grilling


“The Healthy Gourmet”

May 20, 2010


Healthy Grilling

If you are like many of us, warm weather inspires us to uncover the grill, dust it off, and get out all those weird tools and gadgets that seemed like such useful things in the store.  (For some of you die hard grilling types, it’s a year round thing….).   Whatever the outdoor temperature that makes you want to savor that smoky smell and taste that char-grilled flavor, there are some tips to make those tasty traditions a bit more healthy.

There has been some research done that says the combination of high heat from grills and meat fats can increase the risk of cancer.  I am not a medical or scientific expert, but there have been enough studies done that it seems like a valid threat.  Note that grilling is not the only cooking method that increases the risk of cancer, and you do not need to eliminate grilling as a means of cooking.  Just consider these simple and easy steps to help minimize unhealthy grilling:

  • Trim as much fat off the meat as possible – fats hitting the high heat of the grill are troublemakers, plus the fat adds unwanted calories, so remove it.  All of it.
  • Avoid flare-ups on the grill.  Try to keep any liquids or marinade fats away from the flame and if it does flare up use water immediately to douse the flare-up
  • Keep your grill clean – both the grates as well as the buildup of fat below the grates.  If left-over or fat from previous grilling(s) flares up when grilling meat you have carefully trimmed of fat you have undone a lot of the good you did by trimming the meat
  • Use acidic marinades when possible – according to research done by the American Cancer Research Institute, foods marinated in an acidic marinade have a far lower chance of forming HCAs on them, one chemical associated with increased cancer risk.  So use orange, grapefruit, lemon, or lime juice, or vinegar (regular or flavored) in marinades to help with both the healthy, and the tasty, aspects of grilling
  • Use meats lower in fat – try to avoid hamburger or hot dogs or sausages as much as possible.  I know, this hurts as I love sausage and burgers on the grill.  Just try to limit how often you have them…..

Let’s look at the marinade tip above – making your own marinades is easy and fast and can be accomplished very well with ingredients you have on hand.  One sure-to-please marinade is basic bottled Italian dressing; it has the right combo of oil and vinegar (giving you the acidic marinade recommended above) plus a nice mix of herbs.

If you want to make your own marinade, start with equal amounts of oil (olive oil or canola oil are my favorites) and vinegar (try red wine, balsamic, tarragon, or rice vinegars for varying tastes) – or use any citrus juice you have on hand in place of the vinegar.  Keep some extra oil handy in case the acid taste is too strong for you – add extra oil as needed.  Put some chopped fresh herbs in if you have them; if not, try a bit of garlic powder, some dried oregano and/or basil, ground cumin, and/or a few red pepper flakes for some zing.  Other ingredients that make a marinade very good are brown or Dijon mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, or steak sauce.  Honey is a nice way to offset some of the acidic taste plus it acts to bind the ingredients together (use about a teaspoon or less).

Always mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl and then add them to the meat (don’t just put the marinade ingredients directly on the meat).   Make sure the meat is covered in the marinade – the easiest way to do this is to put the meat and then the marinade in a sealable plastic bag, making sure to turn the bag often to distribute the liquid.  And ALWAYS marinate in the refrigerator – leaving the meat at room temperature can risk putting the food within the temperature range that bacteria and germs can grow, so always be safe and put the meat immediately in the refrigerator after you add the marinade and keep it there until you are ready to put it on the grill.

One last thought on marinades:  feel free to use any marinade to baste the meat while it is grilling.  Just be sure to stop adding the marinade on the grill before the last 8 (preferably more than 8) minutes so that the heat can kill any germs in the marinade from the raw meat.  Likewise, never serve marinade as a sauce unless you have brought it to a complete rolling boil for 5 minutes, again to be sure any germs from the raw meat are killed before eating.

Now, go out and get some lean red meat or some pork or chicken, maybe some salmon, and marinate it in a nice acidic marinade, cook it on a clean grill without flare-ups, make sure you boil any extra marinade before serving it as a side sauce, fix a great salad and some veggies, and enjoy the warm weather!