There’s just something great about a sizzling grill in the summer. A feeling and mood that emanates from the grill that is hard to describe.
Wait, what are we saying? We know exactly what’s great about that sizzling grill. One of the best smells known to man. A place to gather and talk with friends over drinks. And of course, the delicious food that comes off that grill once it’s done sizzling.
Grilling is also a healthy, simple way to cook — especially in the summer. You don’t have to coat your proteins and veggies in oil and various carbs before baking or sauteing. And you don’t have to turn your oven on! Win. Win.
“It gives you that nice, charred flavor without having to add any fat or extra calories,” says Stacy Beeson, a Registered Dietitian in the Denver area.
Yep, it’s hard to go wrong with a hot grill on a summer day. But it can also be easy to default to the grill classics — burgers, hot dogs, brats. Maybe corn on the cob if you’re mixing in some produce. Beeson provided the following tips, tricks and recipes to take your next grill gathering from meh to mouth-watering.
You might love the sound of the loud sizzle when a steak hits the grill or the sight of flames jumping up to put a little char on your burger, but all that action could be increasing your risk for cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research notes that grilling meat on high heat can lead to the formation of potential carcinogens. One form (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) is present in flames and can stick to meat and another (heterocyclic amines) can form in meat when cooked at a high heat. Both can alter your DNA and increase your risk for cancer.
So what should we do? Get low. Lower your grill’s temperature, to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit says Beeson, and lower your cooking time. If you can’t stand the idea of cooking a steak or something else at a lower temperature, at least follow the following rules of thumb: Create smaller portions to reduce cooking time and also trim fat from meat to reduce flare-ups. Beeson’s next tip reduces carcinogens and boosts your meal’s flavor profile.
Studies suggest that marinating meat may reduce heterocyclic amines, one of the carcinogens that can increase risk for cancer. Not to mention marinades are a quick and easy way to punch up the flavor of your meat. Beeson says two hours is ideal for marinating, but even a half hour can give you a noticeable kick for those nights (ok, fine, it’s most nights) when you didn’t plan dinner before you got home from work.
Do yourself a favor and keep some staples on hand to mix and match your way to a great marinade in just a couple of minutes: olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, mustard, honey or agave, lemon or lime and an array of spices and herbs. Experiment. Try new ingredients. Go wild. Marinades aren’t so strong that they will overpower your meat, but enough of a boost to put a new twist on chicken or fish.
This is Beeson’s go-to for salmon, but you’re just a Google search away from hundreds of marinade options:
- 3 Tbs. Honey
- 3 Tbs. Dijon Mustard
- 2 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
- Black Pepper and Garlic Powder to taste
Bring the Color (And Flavor)
If the only pop of color at your cookout is ketchup and mustard, you’re robbing yourself of important vitamins, minerals and flavors. Your grill isn’t just for meat, so bring on the vegetables and fruits.
A grill basket or pan is your best friend for introducing vegetables to the grill party. Slice up a bunch of vegetables and thrown them in this basket with herbs and olive oil. You get that great grilled taste without losing several vegetables through the grill grates and watching them transform into sad pieces of charcoal. Oh, what could have been.
And don’t forget that marinades are not just for meat. Beeson offers the following marinade/recipe for grilled vegetables:
- ¼ Cup balsamic vinegar
- ¼ Cup water
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 Tbs. light soy sauce
- 1 Portabella mushroom, sliced into ¼” long pieces
- ½ Pepper, sliced into bite-size pieces
- 1 Bunch kale, torn into bite-size pieces
Put liquid ingredients in a ziplock bag. Add vegetables and marinate for 30 minutes. Set vegetables in grill pan on medium heat and grill 5-7 minutes. Drizzle remaining dressing over vegetables.
You can also mix diced vegetables into your burger patties. Rather than just sprinkling some salt and pepper on your patties before you throw them on the grill, mix in some onions, peppers onions, olives or whatever else strikes you, along with herbs of your choice. Your burgers will burst with flavor.
Since you’re already expanding your vegetable-grilling horizons we’ll make two more less-conventional suggestions:
- Grilled Romaine Lettuce: This is a thing now. And a pretty good thing. You can simply grill it and top with some lemon for a side or make a whole salad with grilled romaine.
- Cactus: Popular in Latin America, cactus has some great potential health benefits and a fresh, tart flavor somewhat akin to artichoke. Just coat with olive oil and seasonings and throw it on the grill for a few minutes on each side. Many latin markets stock cactus so hunt some down.
While you’re introducing more produce to your grill, bring the fruit over, too. Pineapple and peach are great just sliced and thrown on the grill. You can also add fruit to your meat and vegetable kabobs for a touch of sweetness.
Beeson also recommends grilled pears with gorgonzola or other bleu cheese. Slice a pear in half, scoop out the seeds and set on the grill for 4-5 minutes. While they’re still hot, sprinkle with cheese and enjoy.
Or at least get unconventional, by grilling standards. Whether you want something different for the family on a weeknight or you want to impress your friends at your party, try to stray from the standard burgers and dogs.
Beeson has three recipes to get you started with something different from a burger twist to breakfast:
Turkey Burger with Mango or Peach Salsa
- 1 ⅓ Pound ground turkey (93% lean or 99% lean)
- 1 Garlic clove minced
- 2 Green onions, sliced thin
- 1 Jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2-3 Teaspoons Caribbean spice mix
- 1 Teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 Ripe limes
Preheat grill. Combine the turkey and next 5 ingredients in a bowl but handle minimally to prevent a tough burger. It’s best to let the raw mixture sit in the refrigerator to help the flavors seep into the burger. Form burgers into 4-5 patties and create a small dent in the center to prevent a hill in your cooked burger. Place on the grill. Use a brush to apply a small amount of olive oil to the top of the burger. Flip once after 6 minutes and squeeze lime juice over patties right after you flip and once they are done.
Mango or Peach Salsa
- 1 Large, ripe mango or peach, chopped
- ½ Red pepper, chopped
- ¼ Red onion, chopped
- 2 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
- Ground pepper
- Juice from 1 orange
Combine the mango, pepper, onion, cilantro, pepper and orange juice in a bowl and let sit to let the flavors blend. Add salsa on top of the burgers and eat with or without a bun.
Homemade Taco Pizza on the Grill
- Pizza dough – fresh, refrigerated dough ball. Homemade or premade.
- 1 Small jar pizza sauce
- 1 Can fat-free refried beans
- 1 Medium can green chilies
- 1 Medium can chopped olives
- ½ Onion, sliced
- 1, 8-ounce bag reduced-fat shredded cheddar
- 1, 8-ounce bag shredded mozzarella
- Fresh tomatoes
- Shredded lettuce
Take the raw pizza dough and add a small amount of olive oil to the back of the crust. Place the raw dough, oil side down on the grill without any heat. Add the ingredients in preferred amounts in the order above from pizza sauce to the cheese. Add any other ingredients you like. Set the grill on low-medium heat, close the lid and cook for 15-20 minutes (depending on the heat of your grill) or until the crust is brown. When the pizza is done, add fresh tomatoes and fresh shredded lettuce.
Backyard Breakfast on the Grill
- 6 eggs
- Olive oil and dash salt
- Chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon and chives
- 6 Whole wheat sourdough English muffins
- 6 Thin slices ham
- 3 Slices reduced-fat cheese
- 6 Slices tomato
Prepare grill to medium-heat. Lightly rub a muffin tin with oil and crack 6 eggs into the individual muffin tins, sprinkle with salt and pepper and fresh herbs. Cover muffin tin with aluminum foil and place on grill and cook 4-5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Place English muffins and ham around edges of grill to warm. Flip bread over and quickly scatter herbs on top of each round, then top with ½ slice cheese and cook until cheese melts.
Place English muffins on serving platter, layer with tomato and ham. Scoop out each egg and place on top of ham. Sprinkle each with snipped chives and ground pepper. Add other ingredients of your choice and enjoy. Vegetarian options are to substitute tofu for eggs and portabella mushrooms for ham.
There’s nothing wrong with the classics, but they’re not exactly a dietitian’s dream or the most memorable meal. So if you’re looking to make your cookout a little more healthy, inspiring or preferably both, try these recipes out and let us know what you think!