There are a lot of opinions out there today about what’s the healthiest way to cook food. Obviously, since I run a beginner grilling website I believe grilling is safe but is it really better for your health than other types of cooking?
Is grilling healthier than frying or baking? The answer is Yes, as long as you follow some simple guidelines. Many of the healthiest foods in the produce and meat sections of your local market will grill up nicely if prepared properly. Use meat with low-fat content and avoid burning your food. We’ll go into more depth in this article.
According to WebMD, there are two major concerns with grilling:
When grilling we tend to use the fattier cuts of meat. Who doesn’t love a good “juicy” burger or some bratwurst hot off the grill? Consuming fatty foods can lead to higher saturated fat and cholesterol in our bodies.
When grilling it’s possible to get exposed to two types of cancer-causing compounds. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). A small amount of PAHs are in the grill marks that we all expect to see on grilled meats.
PAHs are also caused when the fat from a meat hits the coals or drip guard over a gas burner. The PAHs are then deposited on the meat when you have a flare-up or through the smoke.
HCAs are produced anytime that red meat, fish or poultry are cooked at a high temperature.
Wait! Before you freak out and put your grill by the curb for the trash guy to pick up keep reading! There are many healthy ways to cook meats and other foods on your grill.
What Makes Grilling Healthier?
First, and maybe foremost, by grilling many of the calories drip off the meat in the fat. You also don’t have to use butter or cooking oils, that can be high in calories, to grease the pan.
Since grilling accentuates the natural flavors of meat and vegetables you can skip the high-calorie sauces and condiments. Because grilling brings out the flavors and keeps vegetables juicy you are also more likely to eat more. Can’t we all use more vegetables in our diets these days?
Using herbs and natural, low calorie, homemade marinades you can make the flavors of your grilled foods pop even more.
After sprinkling herbs on your meat use a fork or spoon to push the herbs into the meat. They will be less likely to fall off into the grill when cooking.
Avoiding store-bought marinades will help keep you away from the sugar and preservatives that those often contain. A quick search on your favorite recipe website is sure to offer up many easy and tasty options.
The Healthiest Foods to Put on the Grill
There are so many healthy foods that are great on the grill that one article can’t cover them all. Below is a list of some of my favorites that are also beginner friendly and easy to cook.
Peaches, nectarines, and plums are an easy and tasty dessert when grilled. Cut in half and remove the pit. Coat lightly with a little olive oil so they don’t stick to the grill. Cook meat side down for 3-4 minutes then flip onto the round skin side for another 3-4 minutes. When serving you can drizzle a little honey on top for a little more sweetness if desired.
Pineapple is great on the grill and goes wonderfully with fish and chicken as a sweet side. Lightly coat pineapple rings or spears with olive oil and grill on each side for 2 to 3 minutes.
Cherry tomatoes are sweet and juicy. Place 3 to 5 on a wood skewer. Coat lightly with olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and pepper on them. Place on indirect heat for 5 or 6 minutes, rotating at least once.
Corn On The Cob
Remove the husks and either lightly cover with olive oil or coat the grill with olive oil. Place directly on the grill. The total cooking time will be 15 to 20 minutes, turning several times. You’ll know it’s done when the kernels are a nice dark yellow and tender if poked with a knife. Serve warm with a pat of butter and salt if desired.
Like many other foods, strawberries taste amazing grilled. Put 3 or 4 of them on bamboo skewers and grill over medium heat for about 5 minutes, rotating once. You can make an amazing dessert with strawberries, pineapple, and cubed peaches as a kabob.
To be honest I’m not a big fan of zucchini unless it’s fried with batter or grilled. Grilled zucchini with a little ranch dressing is a healthy side dish that can be made while you’re grilling your main dish. Be sure to grill the zucchini at low to medium heat and lightly coat them with oil so they don’t stick. Season with salt and pepper or garlic powder.
Healthy Grilling Tips
For juicy vegetables wrap them in foil before placing them on the grill. If you place them directly on the grill you will end up with crispy vegetables, which are also good. It just depends on whatever you prefer.
Because grilled vegetables and fruits are so tasty be sure to include some every time you grill. Be sure to use a grill basket if you’re grilling small pieces of veggies. More on that on my Best Grill Basket page.
If you’re planning on grilling large cuts, you can use a grill mat to keep them from drying out. They serve as a flat, non-stick grilling surface. A set of sturdy, non-stick grill mats can be found on my Best Grill Mat page, and you can read more about them there.
If you are marinating food for more than 30 minutes be sure to refrigerate it during the marinating process. This will prevent the food from getting to be room temperature.
Stay by your grill so as to not burn your food. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, burned food contains more of the Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Besides, burned food does not taste good and is wasteful if thrown away.
To make sure your food doesn’t overcook, you’ll need to know the internal temperature of your food. For meats this is crucial. Head over to my Best Grill Thermometer (wireless !) to see just how useful those babies can be.
Another benefit of staying by your grill is you’re getting outside. Many of us are deficient in Vitamin D and getting outside into the sunshine is a great natural way to get Vitamin D. Also getting fresh air is good for you.
Cut away any extra fat on your meat before grilling. This will help limit the flare-ups and therefore the PAHs on your cooked food.
Grilling food minimizes the number of dishes used, meaning easier cleanup and fewer detergents used in the sink and therefore in the environment.
For the juciest steaks, chicken, and burgers follow this pattern:
- Cook 25% of the total cook time
- Rotate 90 Degrees and cook 25% of the total time
- Flip over and cook 25% of the total time
- Rotate 90 Degrees and cook that last 25% of the total time
The above pattern (remember: rotate, flip, rotate) will cause the checkered grill pattern that makes grilled food look so good. If you flip more than once the meat is more likely to dry out.
Use a grilling thermometer and make sure your meat never gets over 325 degrees. At 325 degrees heterocyclic amines (HCAs) begin to form on the meat. Burgers only need to get to an internal temperature of 160 degrees and chicken needs to get to 165 degrees internally. Reduce the grill heat and cook a little longer to stay in the safe zone.
We’ve seen that grilling can not only be fun and tasty but also healthy if done properly. Many of the healthiest foods available in your supermarket will grill up nicely if prepared properly and watched as they cook to make sure they don’t get overdone.
By avoiding sauces and fats that are often used in frying you can have a healthy and balanced meal of grilled meat, vegetables, and fruit all prepared right on your grill, all at the same time.
If it’s raining don’t let that stop you from grilling, read my article about rainy weather grilling!
Today’s lifestyle often leaves us inside for most of the day. A little time outside will do your body and soul good. So get outside, enjoy the fresh air and grill up some healthy and tasty food!