Grilling and good health: Six hot tips for healthy barbecue

Jul 6, 2017 | 22 comments

Our friends from Quebec City, a town not known for its long, leisurely summers, don’t ever put away their gas grill. Come rain, sun, snow, or ice (there’s a LOT of ice in Quebec City!) they’re grilling.

chl susan logo2Like many folks, they crave the taste of foods cooked over an open fire. To them it’s a taste of summer. And barbecue doesn’t have to mean fatty meats and thick, sugary sauce. Grilling is all about flavor, and can be a healthy way to cook foods.

Here in Cuenca, barbecue is king. From the open grill stands with huge cerdos and tiny cuy spinning on rotisseries, to fancy parrilladas with white linen napkins, grilling is a favorite among locals and expats alike.

ECU04.5271.xf1brw Spit-roasted cuy (guinea pig) is a popular food all over Ecuador, but are an especial treat in Ambato, Ecuador, where plump roasted cuy are served in great numbers in shops around the city. Cuy are also raised by families in their homes and are eaten for special occasions, like Easter. (Supporting image from the project Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.) /// Street food is easy take-away food. For vendors, the street is a cheap place to cook and street cooking began as a way to provide cheap food for the poor, as Charles Mann explains in his essay in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 128-129). Yet, as societies become more mobile and affluent, this quick and convenient food goes upscale.

And while these grilled favorite meats may be on your menu on occasion (has anyone cooked cuy on your home grill?), it’s fun to include some tasty and more weight-friendly (not to mention healthier) options.

 The Hot 6

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  1. Charcoal or Gas? It really depends on you. Both will get the job done, but some people are passionate about grilling over coals, more akin to grilling over a “real” fire. Charcoal means smoke, and for many, it’s the smoke that makes grilling worthwhile. Others prefer the
    "Get off your gas."

    “Get off your gas.”

    convenience of a gas grill, and the ease of adjusting the temperature by just a twist of the knob. Charcoal is more work, but it’s cheaper, and gets a lot hotter. WebMD reminds us that while no studies show that gas is “healthier” than charcoal, they note that charcoal emits more carbon monoxide. They also note that all charcoal isn’t equal, and some briquettes contain ingredients that can be unhealthful, such as coal dust, borax, and additives like paraffin and lighter fluid. Lighter fluid is always a no-no: it releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and leaves an unpleasant residue on food.

  2. Lean Cuts, Trim First: If you like a leaner grill, because you’re fond of meat but don’t want the excess fat and calories, skinless poultry cutlets are great on the grill. If you like a leaner red meat, any section ending in “loin” — tenderloin, top loin, or sirloin — means a leaner cut. To make it leaner still, trim the fat before grilling, and remember, lean meat cooks more quickly than fatty meat, so adjust your cooking time. EatingWell has a bunch of healthy grilled pork recipes, and CookingLight has a great recipe for grilled sirloin skewers with peaches and peppers.
  3. Marinate First: A marinade is usually a tasty blend of herbs, an acid (lemon or lime juice, wine, vinegar), spices and a little olive oil.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  Marinating meats (lean beef, pork, chicken or turkey breast) in a blend of acids for as little as 30 minutes before grilling will boost flavor, make your meat more juicy and tender, and reduce (possibly cancer-causing) heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are formed during the charring process. Cancer.gov recommends flipping meat frequently to reduce HCA formation; avoid direct exposure to fire (and prolonged cooking times); and avoid eating charred meat, or making gravy from drippings of meat cooked over fire. They also suggest using a microwave to pre-cook meat to reduce HCA formation: this reduces time the meat is in contact with high heat to finish cooking. Read more here.
  4. Grilled Fish: A hot grill will terrorize a delicate fish filet — but a sturdy favorite like salmon, tuna, or swordfish can stand the heat. More delicate filets like trout can be cooked on the grill in aluminum foil, or I like to use a grilling basket. Why stop at fish filets or steaks? ShrimpPescado-con-patacones and langostinos are ideal for grilling too. Try Jaime Oliver’s recipe for barbecued shellfish: he wisely says to use a baking rack on the grill so the shellfish don’t fall through the grates.  WikiHow has a step-by-step pictorial that demonstrates everything: from choosing fish through grilling. Try grilling a whole fish — learn how to select a whole fish, then how to stuff it with a delectable mix of seasonings and/or herbs and/or aromatic vegetables.
  5. Go Greens…and reds, yellows and oranges. All plant foods are naturally healthful, and grilling brings out some very special flavors. Skewer pineapple, mango and peaches — their natural sweetness is enhanced by fire. Unlike meats, plants are almost all naturally low fat or fat-free, so you don’t have to worry about chemical changes from interaction with flames — the caramelization gives grilled fruits andgrilledveggies vegetables an unforgettable nutty flavor and golden color. Try grilled corn in the husk. First, soak the un-husked ears in water for about 30 minutes. Then pop on a hot grill for about 10 minutes, rolling over a few times to avoid burning; let cool until you can handle, pull down the husks and serve with olive oil and sea salt. Thickly slice yellow and green zucchinis and eggplant, then microwave uncovered in a glass dish for 2 minutes, turning once. Drain and marinate in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh lime, orange, or lemon juice for about 15 minutes, then grill a few minutes on each side. Try Portobello mushrooms on the grill — better than steak, in my opinion — nutty, “beefy”, and deliciously healthy.
  6. You Barbecue What? Pizza! Since the best pizza is made in a really hot oven, grilling pizza is even better, ‘cause it gets much hotter than you can get inside. Just like cooking inside, get all your ingredients organized before grilling outdoors. Check out this great recipe from TheKitchn.com. Get your grill very hot, then gather all your ingredients: thinly sliced veggies,54fdca65126d7-pesto-mozzarella-pizzas-s3 cooked diced chicken, slivered greens (kale is a sturdy pizza-friendly green) and cheese (mozzarella is fine, or a stronger Asiago. I like freshly grated Parmesan). Stretch or roll out the crust, brush with olive oil, then grill oil-side down on the grill, cooking for a couple minutes, flipping it, brushing again, then topping with your favorites. Keep an eye on it — it’s going to cook quickly. And, don’t forget the tools of the trade — a pair of long metal tongs, and a very strong oven mitt.

Check out The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics safe grilling techniques tip sheet for National Grilling Month. Make sure you start with a clean grill, thaw your meats safely, and cook to the correct temperature, all pictured here.

This article is reposted from 2016.
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