Good-for-You Grilling

Tips to make sure your food is perfect every time you grill.

Why is it that the hottest time of the year is when, most likely, everyone is gathered around a flaming grill? As warm as it may be, somehow it works—except when the result is charred meat.

“When high-protein foods like beef and chicken are burned, they produce carcinogenic compounds known as nitrates,” says physician David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. There is less of a hazard when grilling foods that aren’t proteins, like vegetables, but even veggies produce potential carcinogens if burned.

So what’s a die-hard backyard cook to do—bake the food? What’s the fun in that? There are other ways to satisfy your primitive urges that include a health-related upside: Grilling lowers the fat content of meat because the grease drips off. Here are some tips to improve your grilling results:

>>Turn down the flames. It means cooking your food longer, but it also means you won’t burn it.

>>Use a meat thermometer to ensure your food is properly cooked.

>>Keep your food clean. Before putting your meat on the grill, pat dry any excess marinade; dripping sauce makes it more likely your meat will catch fire and burn.

>>Keep your grill clean. Brush your grate clean after every use (the grates are easier to clean when hot).

>>Pre-cook your meat in the microwave or bake your meat until the center is almost cooked, then toss it on the grill for the last few minutes to give it that fresh-grilled taste you wait for all year.

>>And most important, don’t stress—grilling should be fun and relaxing!

Burgers

Burgers on the grill are the symbol of any great American summer. Nothing tastes better than a burger grilled to perfection, topped with your favorite condiments on a warmed bun. Keep in mind that the lower the fat content, the better your burger will be. Fattier patties tend to shrink as you cook them.

You choose the level of pink in your patties, but make sure to cook them on high heat. The faster they cook, the better. Plus, it’s dire that the burger reaches the temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit; otherwise, there is a risk for E coli. The flavor is something to play around with. Dried herbs and spices will give a burger a good kick, while onions, cheeses, and garlic will be a regular burger staple. Sauces like barbeque, soy, Worcestershire, plum, or other seasonings should be applied lightly and left to soak, letting it saturate the meat. Also, it is important to resist the temptation to flatten your patties, or turn them more than once. These maneuvers will squeeze out the juices and leave your burger a bit blander than it should be.

Salmon

Salmon is one of the easiest types of fish to cook on a grill. A light marinade with a small amount of butter, lemon juice, and a hint of bay leaf is a great mixture. Grilling on a cedar plank adds additional flavor and can prevent the flames from the grill burning the fish. Salmon cooks very quickly and only requires three to four minutes of grilling time on each side.

Coho salmon is a favorite to some, but other popular varieties include Copper River salmon and Sockeye salmon. Wild salmon is especially favored since independent laboratory reports have shown that farmed salmon (but not trout) may contain high levels of contaminants like carcinogenic PCBs. There are cases where over-fishing of wild salmon causes environmental damages, as well. The other issue of concern is mercury contamination, so please monitor your consumption level. You can find many simple recipes for grilled salmon on the Natural Solutions website.

Grilled Portabella Mushrooms

Grilled portabellas are a versatile favorite on the grill. Prepared as a sandwich or as a side, they are always crowd pleasers. Choose a size that works best for the way you want to eat them: a 3- to 4-inch cap for sandwiches or slicing or golf-ball sized caps which works well for serving alone as a side. Coat the grill’s warming shelf lightly with cooking spray (or use the grill top with indirect heat), and place the caps top-down on the heat. Fill each cap with Italian dressing, or salt and fill with an emulsion of your favorite flavored olive oil and vinegar. Cook for 20-30 minutes until tender.

Vegetable Kabobs

Meat and veggies cook at very different rates, so even if you plan to prepare both, it is best to cook them separately. Choose a colorful variety of vegetables including aromatics such as onions and garlic, whole tomatoes, bell peppers, small red potatoes, mushrooms, or whatever suits your taste. The key is to cut them uniformly or choose pieces that are all similar in size. Skewer and brush lightly with melted coconut oil. Place over medium heat and roast until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. If a sear is desired, or if serving with meat, remove from the heat after 15 to 18 minutes, allow the grill to come to high heat, and sear the roasted vegetables along with the meat-only kabobs.

Shrimp

Grilled shrimp can be a quick addition to any barbeque. One way to cook them is by peeling the prawns and smothering with a simple glaze such as Jenkins Hell Fire Pepper Jelly. The glaze provides a sweet zest with a kick of spice to the shrimp. Glaze lightly and don’t overcook. Shrimp should always be grilled on a skewer, making it easier to control and cook. Keep heat on medium, and let them cook until shrimp has changed color.