Summer is upon us once again which means many of us will be cooking outdoors on the patio with our grills or smokers. But what about all the bad rap that grilled foods gets and will eating grilled food derail your attempt to follow a healthy diet? The problem with grilling is that otherwise healthy food can become carcinogenic as the result of excess smoking and charring.
There has been much misinformation for decades about meat being bad for our health when in actual fact it is how we cook it that is all important. Unfortunately the classic charred grill taste and the blackened grill marks on the food is not the best way to cook food if we are concerned with following a healthy diet. However does this mean you should not grill your food at all? Not all, you just have to be wise about what you cook and how you cook it.
Forget hot dogs. There is no healthy way to cook hot dogs as they are made from processed meat that is bad for us whatever way we cook it. But for burgers, steaks, ribs and chicken you can grill them much more healthily if you follow these tips.
Grill Leaner Meat
Grilling isn’t unhealthy but badly grilled food most definitely is. I don’t like to say cook less fatty meat as I’m not a believer that fat is bad for you. However when it comes to grilling fatty cuts of meat it will drip more fat onto the bars of the grill which causes flare ups. This releases Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) which can cause cancer.
You can minimize the risk associated with HCAs by grilling leaner cuts of meat such as chicken breasts or skinless thighs; pork loin or tenderloin; beef tenderloin, skirt or flank steak; pork loin or tenderloin. Less fat means less fat to drip onto the grill which means a lower risk from HCAs.
You can further minimize the risk by taking care not to overcook the meat. The best way to do this is to have a thermometer handy that you can insert into the center of the meat to make sure it fully cooked all the way through.
It will take you a bit longer, but always try to grill your meat at a moderate heat to minimize charring and flare ups. Also make sure to turn the meat over at regular intervals.
Marinating Your Meat
We all know that grilled meat is not complete without marinating it first as it will boost the flavor. But marinating also has the benefit of protecting the meat from excessive charring and helps to minimize flare-ups. Research at Kansas State University has shown that marinating meat before grilling can out the amount of carcinogens formed between 57-88%
Most of the marinades you buy in store are full of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients so I would advise you to make you own. Here are some healthy marinade recipes for you to try.
Speed up Cooking Times
The less time you keep the food on the grill the better as it gives less time for carcinogens to form. You can decrease the amount of time it takes to grill meat by cubing it or slicing it into smaller portions that take less time to cook all the way through. Remember that trying to cook meat in less time does not mean cooking at a higher heat as that will increase the risk of charring.
Grilling purists will sneer at this, but you can also reduce the amount of time that meat stays on the grill by precooking the meat first in a conventional oven before transferring it to the grill.
Don’t Forget About Fish
Many grillers never attempt to grill fish as they find that it crumbles as it cooks and will fall through or stick to the grates. There is an easy solution to that which is too cook the fish whole. You can even buy a stainless steel fish basket that secures the fish whilst they are being grilled.
Another great fish grilling tip that works really well for salmon is to cook them on cedar planks. Not only does it make the fish easier to grill it also infuses them with a woody flavor like you would get from using a pellet smoker.
Vegetable Grilling Tips
We nearly always associate outdoor grilled food with meat so don’t forget the vegetables. It’s far healthier to grill vegetables than meat as they don’t release the same chemicals when charred.
You don’t need to worry about chopping the vegetables up into small pieces and falling through the grill if you get yourself a stainless steel vegetable grilling basket. I find that best vegetables for grilling are eggplants, zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus and bell peppers. Why not try stuffing some of the bigger vegetable such as peppers too.