The official start of summer is June 21st, even though May is usually considered summer’s unofficial start. Along with the summer season comes rising temps, beautiful flowers and trees blooming, long-awaited vacations, shorts and sandals, outdoor activities and summer grilling. With the longer days, even the weather is often perfect, especially for backyard grilling. I used to wonder if there were ways to implement healthy summer grilling that even the biggest proponent of barbecue would like. What I found may surprise you.
All around the USA barbecue is considered the obvious choice for just about all backyard summer grilling. But instead of elevating the type of barbecue menu many of us grew up with—hot dogs, sausage, hamburgers, steaks, barbecue beans and potato salad—I want to offer a few ideas for healthy summer grilling. The latest research suggests that everyone can benefit from careful preparation when getting ready to fire-up the grill for summer. The key lies in the details. Pairing grilled foods such as vegetables and healthy meats with anti-oxidant rich fruit, herbs and spices provides a delicious and, best of all, healthy menu for your summer grilling.
Note: For those that will ask, there is definitely a difference between barbecuing and grilling. Both techniques make some very delicious food, but there is one big difference between them. Grilling is cooking foods hot and fast and is usually used for meats such as steaks, pork chops, seafood, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Most vegetables and some fruits are also scrumptious cooked on the grill. On the other hand, barbecuing is cooking foods low and slow and is usually used for cuts of meat like ribs, pork shoulder, beef brisket, or whole chickens or turkeys. These meats are usually tougher, and need the low, slow heat of a barbecue (or a slow-cooker) in order to get them good and tender. However, for this Texas girl, I reserve the right to use them interchangeably because that’s what we do in Texas.
4 Tips for Healthy Summer Grilling
Make Grilled Vegetables and Fruit the Main Attraction
Even though most backyard barbeques are about the meat, they really don’t have to be. While I’m not saying you shouldn’t serve any meat, I am saying if you want to serve healthier meals try to focus on wonderfully seasoned grilled organic vegetables and fruit as the main attraction. Choose grill-worthy vegetables such as Portobello mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, peppers, bell peppers, sliced ears of corn, tomatoes and onions. These veggies can be lightly dressed in balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme for a scrumptious fare. Grilled fruits can include organic pineapple, peaches, bananas, apples, cantaloupe, strawberries, figs and pears. If you must have some protein in your menu, try some wild-caught salmon or organic free-range chicken.
Skip the Unhealthy Calories
It’s a good idea to skip all those side dishes that are drowning in mayo, such as coleslaw, potato salad and macaroni salad as well as all the sugar-laden desserts. Consider serving a beautiful kale salad, grilled sweet potatoes, and a healthy bean salad. Use healthy, organic ingredients including herbs and spices. If you want some delicious barbeque sauce, pass on the bottled laden-with-preservatives sauce and look for some of the online homemade recipes tweaking them a bit to make your own healthy version. Serve healthy dips such as Healthy Texas Caviar Dip. And for those calorie-pumping desserts, how about some cold juicy watermelon!
Food Safety Is Important
When foods are cooked at high heat such as an outdoor barbeque grill, dangerous by-products can be the end result. Some of the main toxins to be aware of are:
- Heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
- Advanced glycation end products AGEs
Barbecuing meat can cause the creations of certain carcinogens that are associated with cancer. This is not only an issues with red meat, but can also occur with chicken and fish. The very high temperatures can cause the breakdown of creatinine, an amino acid in the meat, forming dangerous heterocyclic amines (HCAs). To avoid this, always begin by marinating any meat that is to be cooked.
A study at the University of Hawaii demonstrated that steaks marinated in traditional teriyaki sauce or turmeric-garlic sauce diminished formation of toxins by about two-thirds. In contrast, commercial barbecue sauce increased formation of toxins by 300 to 400 percent.
In another study, marinating chicken with garlic and olive oil decreased levels of the most prominent toxins by 90 percent. The addition of brown sugar to marinades, however, increased production of a second toxin ten-fold.
Barbecuing may also contribute to the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are produced when animal fat drips onto heating elements. The PAHs rise in the smoke and then settle back down on the food being cooked. They can also form directly when the meat is charred. To prevent this, cook the meat at lower temps and use a drip pan to keep fat from hitting the heat source. And if anything on the food becomes burned, even the vegetables, cut the burned sections off and throw them away. Be aware that even though plant sources of protein do contain creatinine, they contain less than non-vegetarian sources.
When sugars and proteins are heated AGEs, Advanced Glycation End Products, can be created. AGEs damage proteins, and all the organs made from them, and accelerate aging in your body. And as with HCAs, plant foods tend to produce less of them when heated verses meat—although, it’s only slightly less.
Reminder: When you grill, always lightly grill. Don’t char since most of the damage is found in the char.
Just Enjoy Being Outside
More than just enjoying the fresh air while you grill, you can put barbecue time to good use by enjoying some activity and getting some Vitamin D while you are at it. While waiting for the food to cook over low heat (see tip #3), organize a friendly game of tag, whiffle ball, or Frisbee. After the meal, suggest an evening walk or bike ride.
Below are some delicious and healthy marinade recipes for grilled vegetables. You have all summer to try each one and I’m pretty sure that at least a couple will become family favorites.
Healthy Marinade Recipes for Grilled Vegetables
Lemon & Garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Spicy Orange & Cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Herbal Marinade for Grilled Vegetables
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
In a large bowl, combine oil and seasonings. Add the vegetables; stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Drain Marinade and grill.
Tangy & Tart
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of olive oil with
1 teaspoon of two of more of these add-ins: chopped fresh rosemary, balsamic vinegar, chopped fresh cilantro/parsley, chopped garlic, chopped capers, Worcestershire sauce, or 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger.
Smith, J.S.; et al. “Effect of Marinades on the Formation of Heterocyclic Amines in Grilled Beef Steaks.” Journal of Food Science. August 2008. Accessed 18 April 2018. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2008.00856.x.