Healthy and Tasty Hacks for Your Next Barbecue

May 30, 2017

It’s grilling season! Cooking food outside presents some special health and safety challenges, but don’t let them ruin your al fresco fete. Here are some tips from Indiana University Health dietitian Beth Kirsch, R.D.

Stay lean and green. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a hot dog, juicy steak, or crispy skin-on grilled chicken once in a while. But if you want a healthier balance to your barbecue menus, here are some delicious ways to do that:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat that aren’t heavily marbled with visible fat, says Kirsch. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for example, a 3.5 ounce serving of beef ribs weighs in at around 334 calories and 26. 5 grams of fat, nearly 12 of which are saturated. The same amount of sirloin steak has 217 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 4 grams of saturated fat. Removing skin from chicken before or after grilling also saves fat and calories, Kirsch points out.
  • Leaner cuts tend to be tougher cuts, so soaking them in an acidic marinade — one that contains citrus juice or vinegar — will help break down tough fibers.
  • Try tofu. It’s sponge for flavor, so you can use just about any marinade or glaze you wish. “Cut firm tofu — not silken — into pieces that are about a third of an inch thick and use a grill basket,” advises Kirsch.
  • Grill your veggies. There’s no vegetable that won’t take well to being barbecued, says Kirsch. When prepping them, cut them into large enough pieces they won’t fall through the grates, or use a grill basket.

Beat back bacteria. You want guests to go home satisfied, not sick. Here are some easy ways to keep things clean when you cook out.

  • Defrost meat and poultry completely for even cooking: Areas that aren’t fully cooked can breed bacteria. The safest way to thaw proteins is in the fridge, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but to move the meltdown along you also can submerge tightly sealed meat in cold water (change it frequently), or use the defrost setting on your microwave.
  • So raw foods don’t come in contact with cooked ones, use separate paper plates for each (less stuff to wash later). Use different utensils as well.
  • Cut down on trips to the kitchen or bathroom sink by keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer that’s between 60 and 90 percent alcohol beside the grill. Scrub a dime-size squirt vigorously between your hands every time you touch meat that’s still raw or not thoroughly cooked.
  • To keep your grill free of food debris that can breed bacteria before your next cookout, scrape down the grate while it’s still hot. The gunk will release more easily and thoroughly. Kirsch advises closing the grill and cranking up the heat so the grates get really hot before you scrape. “It’s also a good idea to grease up the grates before you cook by using tongs to rub them down with a paper towel soaked in cooking oil.

Counter carcinogens. There’s evidence proteins exposed to very high heat (such as direct flames from a charcoal grill) may form cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). Here are some simple ways to prevent this from happening.

  • Do not allow meats, poultry, or fish to char. Take a low and slow approach to cooking them, advises Kirsch. And opting for leaner cuts can also help: The less fat a piece of meat has, the less likely it is to drip juices that will cause a flare-up.
  • Flip food frequently as it cooks.
  • According to the AICR, studies have shown marinating meats can lower HCA formation by up to 96 percent. Kirsch says the more seasonings you include in a marinade the more potent its cancer-fighting potential. She recommends maximizing marinades by adding ingredients that contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals, such as fresh fruit juices.
  • To cut down on the amount of time meats are exposed to high heat, partially cook them in the microwave before putting on the grill, suggest Kirsch.

-- By Maura Rhodes

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