Grilling? Keep It Safe and Healthy with These Tips
Jul 26, 2017 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Firing up the grill this summer with friends and family? Whether you've already mastered your secret sauce or are new to barbecue, every household's "pit boss" should be aware of these nutrition and safety tips.
Scrub the grill and wash fruits and vegetables
"It's best to use a grill brush after you've cooked on a grill rather than right before grilling a new meal," says Kelly Issokson, a Cedars-Sinai registered dietician. "But washing or scrubbing the grill as part of preparation is also fine."
And don't expect the heat from hot grills to clean fruit or vegetables. "Those still need to be washed before you cook them to get any residue or bacteria off," says Issokson. "But if you grill or cook any meats like poultry or beef, don't rinse those because that can spread bacteria."
"Cancer-causing compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can form when fat hits a flame or hot coal–the resulting smoke is full of carcinogens which transfer to your food. Remove as much fat as possible to prevent dripping and smoke from interacting with the meat. Some people also use a grilling tray on a slant to help the fat drip away from the food."
Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot
Issokson recommends keeping meats refrigerated or at 40°F until you're ready to bring them out to the grill and using a food thermometer to ensure meat is cooked hot enough to kill harmful germs.
- 145°F – whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal (stand-time of 3 minutes at this temperature)
- 145°F – fish
- 160°F – hamburgers and other ground beef
- 165°F – all poultry and pre-cooked meats, like hot dogs
When smoking food, keep temperatures inside the smoker at 225-300°F to keep meat a safe temperature while it cooks.
After removing chilled food from the refrigerator, don't leave it out for more than two hours. On days when it's over 90°F outside, refrigerate everything within an hour. Anything left out longer could potentially harbor bad bacteria and cause foodborne illness.
Use two sets of plates and utensils
There are steps you can take to prevent cross-contamination of meat juices or fish bacteria, like using a different set of plates and utensils for raw meats and cooked meats. "Use different sets of vessels and utensils so you're not spreading bacteria from a dirty plate to a clean plate," suggests Issokson. "And when transporting or cooking food, always follow safe procedures, like washing your hands before and after food preparation."
Make your own marinades
When grilling, some people like to use prepared seasonings or marinades. But making your own marinade can create a healthier alternative to store-bought products. Have fun with the flavors while limiting or avoiding salt and sugar in the solutions.
Issokson keeps it simple."When I grill, I usually wrap fish in parchment paper or foil and add a bit of white wine inside the fish pouch, along with slices of lemon or orange, and a few fresh herbs like cilantro or rosemary. I don't use a lot of processed food or prepared marinades. Also, vegetable oil is going to be healthier than an animal fat, with the exceptions of coconut and palm oil because those are high in saturated fat."
She suggests high smoke-point oils, like avocado and grape seed oil. Olive oil is more delicate and can cause a lot of smoke when barbecuing.
Aim for less fat on the grill
Part of the problem with processed meats like hotdogs is that they're loaded with fat and sodium–neither of which is good for your heart in large quantities. During grilling season and beyond, cutting down on those foods is important for a balanced and healthy diet. Consider putting leaner proteins on your barbecue shopping list: fish, chicken breast without the skin, or lean cuts of beef that aren't marbled or have fat you can trim off.
"Cancer is another reason that fat and grilling don't mix well," adds Issokson. "Cancer-causing compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can form when fat hits a flame or hot coal–the resulting smoke is full of carcinogens which transfer to your food. Remove as much fat as possible to prevent dripping and smoke from interacting with the meat. Some people also use a grilling tray on a slant to help the fat drip away from the food."
...You don't always have to grill the veggies. You can do fresh vegetable sides that are great alternatives to macaroni salads and things that shouldn't be out at room temperature...
Leave room for vegetables
Vegetables on the grill can be a lot of fun. Kebabs of different veggie favorites or ears of corn are bright and colorful options that children also enjoy. Vegetables are high in fiber, low in calories, and fill you up. According to Issokson, they help to balance out the meals so you can indulge a bit in those meats.
"And you don't always have to grill the veggies. You can do fresh vegetable sides that are great alternatives to macaroni salads and things that shouldn't be out at room temperature anyway. A leafy green salad with olive oil and lemon juice or a balsamic vinaigrette are great sides and provide a nice contrast to grilled foods."
No barbecue is complete without a little dessert. But try to limit baked goods (cakes, cookies, pies) as they can contain a lot of added sugar and trans fats that contribute to heart disease. Issokson suggests dark chocolate and fresh or grilled fruit. Peaches, for instance, have natural sugars that caramelize during grilling, creating a crunchy texture and deep flavor. Try serving the fruit with sorbet or homemade whipped cream.
Savor your food
Barbecues and holiday meals sometimes leave us feeling stuffed or bloated. So it's helpful to think about what we are eating and where it came from—make sure to enjoy each bite, "especially if you're eating things that you don't eat every day, like the smoked meats," Issokson says.
"They're delicious, so take your time and savor those moments instead of eating quickly."
An ideal portion size is 3-6 ounces of meat per meal. That's a deck or two of cards. "I think most people deal themselves in a bit more when they eat at barbecues and special events, or even on a daily basis. If we could cut back on the portions of specialty products and processed meats, it would help reduce our overall health risks."