Between the months of May and September, it’s difficult to flip through any food or cooking magazine without being lured by the picture-perfect char marks on a mouth-watering grill recipe. Grilling is more than a favorite summer pastime, but also a deliciously healthy cooking method involving little or no added fat and lots of smoky flavor! But how can you be sure you’re grilling safely?


Step 1: Choose Your Grill

Gas, or charcoal? Well – whichever you prefer! Gas grills pose a lower chemical exposure risk; however, you can purchase additive-free charcoal and avoid using accelerants to keep yourself safe! Check out your local hardware store to see what they carry.


Step 2: Mix Up the Menu

While burgers and steaks may be a go-to for grilling, they’re generally going to be high in saturated fats. Mix it up by opting for chicken or fish instead! Or make it colorful and try some of your favorite veggies such as zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, peppers, corn, and onions. No reason to stop at veggies, though! Low water content fruits tend to work well on the grill. Try pineapple, peaches, apples, figs, and plantains.


Step 3: Marinate!

Multiple studies have shown that marinating in your favorite mixture of oil, vinegar, herbs, and spices can significantly reduce formation of HCA, a common type of carcinogen. Pop your protein into a delicious marinade for at least 30 minutes before grilling and enjoy!


Step 4: Keep it Low

Cooking meats at high temperatures can result in the formation of carcinogens called PHAs – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. A good rule of thumb is to cook at a temperature below 325F. You can also opt to partially pre-cook your meat, limiting the amount of smoke exposure they receive. While some char is unavoidable, avoid blackening and cut off any overly cooked pieces.

By selecting lean meats, trimming off fat and skin, and keeping a squirt bottle of water nearby, it is relatively easy to control grill temperatures. Skipping sugary sauces can also prevent charring on the grill. Brush them afterwards to give them the delicious flavor!


Step 5: Keep Yourself Safe

It’s easy to forget about foodborne illnesses when you’re enjoying a warm summer BBQ. Keep these few tips in mind when you’re ready to fire up the grill:

  • Preheat your grill for 15-20 minutes to reach the proper temperature.
  • Cook all foods, especially meats, to safe internal temperatures. Check by using an instant-read thermometer.
  • Be careful to avoid cross-contamination. Keep meats separate from each other as well as separate from veggies. Marinate separately, and don’t re-use marinade.
  • Don’t re-use your raw meat plate. Use a new plate when transferring cooked meat off the grill.

The bottom line is that grilling is both delicious, and good for you. By following these easy rules, grilling can quickly make summer the healthiest season of the year!


“Bring It to the BBQ” Recipes:


By: Aubrey Redd, MS, RDN, LDN