Outdoor grilling is very popular during warm weather. However, it’s not always the healthiest way of eating. Typical barbecue fare usually features hot dogs, burgers, steaks and chicken, with less emphasis on vegetables and grains.
Leaner cuts of meat are a healthier choice. For variety, make burgers with lean ground beef, veal, chicken or turkey. Boost the nutrient value by adding finely minced carrots, celery and onions to the mixture; bind with some bread crumbs or matzo meal. Don’t over-handle the mixture or your burgers will be tough.
Chill burgers before cooking to prevent them from falling apart during grilling. Veggie burgers or marinated portobello mushroom caps are great vegetarian alternatives. Serve on whole wheat rolls or pita bread, topped with sliced tomatoes, lettuce, roasted red peppers and grilled onion slices.
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According to the American Cancer Society, research suggests that cooking meats at very high temperatures creates chemicals (heterocyclic amines, or HCAs) that may increase cancer risk. However, scientists believe that marinating helps creates a barrier against heat that dramatically lowers the formation of HCAs created when meat, poultry and fish are grilled or broiled at high temperatures.
Marinating meats and poultry before cooking makes them more tender and flavorful. If making an acid-based marinade, use a non-reactive container (glass, ceramic, stainless steel or a heavy-duty ziploc plastic bag). Turn the food or shake the bag during marinating so the food is evenly coated.
Marinate either at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 1/2 to 1 hour. For longer marinating, cover and refrigerate the food overnight. Don’t marinate fish for more than an hour before cooking, or it will start to “cook.”
Drain the marinade before grilling. If you want to reserve the leftover marinade for basting or as a sauce, be sure to bring it to a boil, then simmer it for 2 minutes before drizzling it over the cooked food.
TIPS FOR HEALTHIER GRILLING
- Keep meat and chicken lean by trimming away excess fat before cooking. To keep poultry moist and prevent it from drying out during grilling, remove the skin after it is cooked.
- Keep the grill clean. Clean the grate twice, once after preheating the grill and once at the end of cooking.
- Cook meat and poultry thoroughly, but not so much that pieces become charred and blackened. Don’t eat any charred or blackened parts.
- You can pre-cook meat or poultry in the oven or on the stove ahead of time, then complete the last-minute cooking on the grill. This gives foods a wonderful, grilled flavor. It also saves time at mealtime!
- To pre-cook chicken pieces in the microwave, micro-cook on HIGH for 4 to 5 minutes a pound. Then transfer them immediately to the hot grill. This helps reduce cooking time, as well as exposure to smoke.
- Don’t grill over direct heat. Place food around the hot coals, not directly over them.
- Don’t peek! When you open the cover of the barbecue, it loses heat, increasing cooking time.
- Lift the lid only when you have to turn the food. The lid traps the heat and smoke, helping to cook and flavour your food.
- Enjoy grilled meats, poultry or fish with plenty of vegetables, fruits and grains.
GO FOR THE GRAINS!
Grain-based salads make a terrific accompaniment for your next barbecue. Try this Quick Couscous Salad for a quick summer side dish.
Experiment with various grains. Prepare a big batch of rice (basmati), bulgur, couscous or pasta (e.g., spirals, elbows, bow-ties). When cooled, add chopped green onions or shallots, coloured peppers (red, green, orange or yellow), a handful of fresh herbs (minced dill, basil), parsley and a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes. Add a splash of your favourite low-fat salad dressing; season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Chill thoroughly before serving. Adjust seasonings, if necessary, before serving. If desired, sprinkle salad with a handful of toasted almonds or pine nuts. Crumbled feta or goat cheese, grated Cheddar, Swiss or Parmesan cheese also make terrific toppers.
You can “veg-out” at your next barbecue with this easy Mediterranean-style dish. Great Grilled Vegetables and Enjoy!