When it comes to grilling, you’re good. But how good for you are the burgers and dogs you throw on the fire? The fact is that the meats most of us cook contain stuff we don’t want on our plates. So learn to grill like a pro. These easy shopping, cooking and marinating tricks can make your barbecue both great-tasting and great for you:
1. Meet better meat. Surprise: research shows that a bit of nutrient-rich beef may actually decrease heart disease risk. “The problem is that most of us eat cheaply-farmed beef that contains antibiotics and hormones,” says Clean Plates founder Jared Koch. So when you shop, look for grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. “Buying a little less, but making it the best you can afford, will not only boost your health, but boost the flavor,” says Koch. More tempted by chicken? Look for free-range and organic.
As for hot dogs and brats, most are overloaded with salt and nitrates. Try to choose nitrate-free hot dogs made from grass-fed beef.
If you’re doing surf n’ turf, seek out wild or at least organic farm-raised fish. Cod and wild Alaskan salmon are good bets, high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid tilefish, king mackerel, shark and swordfish, which are high in mercury.
2. Stay in the pink. It can be tempting to blacken a steak, but that blackness yields carcinogens called heterocyclic amines or HCAs. Pull meat off the fire at medium-rare (as a chef might say, “Cook it, don’t kill it”) and remove any charred pieces. Trim off excess fat before grilling so it doesn’t drip onto the coals—this will keep HCAs in the smoke away from your food. Also, cooking smaller pieces or starting the meat in the oven and finishing it on the grill cuts cooking time, which gives HCAs less time to form. Cooking on a rack or cedar plank can also help you avoid HCAs.
Marinade trick: marinating meat in red wine or beer for six hours prior to grilling has been shown to dramatically reduce the amount of HCAs, while using acidic marinades with lemon or apple cider vinegar has also been shown to significantly cut HCAs.
3. Dress it right. Not all condiments are created equal. Check the labels; organic ketchups and mustards will be free of high fructose corn syrup, chemical preservatives and colorings.
4. Grill green. Veggies are great grilled, and provide your body with nutrients to counteract some of the harmful effects of other foods at a barbecue. Aim to fill at least half your plate with vegetables.
5. Indulge a little. “I call it the 80/20 rule,” says Koch. “Aim to eat really healthfully 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time…we’re only human.” Plus, your body will be able to better handle the 20% indulgence if you’ve powered it up with the healthy 80%.
The heat is on.