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Your guide to being a healthy grillmaster

Last Modified: 9/25/2019
As soon as the temperatures break 60, the Midwestern skies fill with streams of aromatic smoke from the grill. Julia Walker, RDN, is here just in time for barbecue season with everything you need to know for healthful, delicious outdoor fare (and a few great recipes, of course). 

Grilling out is a great way to make flavorful foods and to connect with friends and family. While this favorite summer activity is fun and enjoyable, it’s important to remember safe cooking techniques to help keep you and your loved ones healthy.

Fill your grill with what’s best.

Instead of only sticking with traditional hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages, which can be high in fat, mix it up with low-fat options like fish, chicken, vegetables and fruit.

Go lean by grilling up a marinated Portobello burger or a turkey burger. Ground turkey breast can be as lean as 99 percent fat-free. Add cilantro, shallots or chili sauce to spice things up. Or, mix in feta cheese, kalamata olives, oregano and pepper, and serve on a pita for a Greek-style burger. Just remember to use a food thermometer to ensure ground turkey reaches a safe temperature of 165°F.

Add a nutritional side by grilling vegetables on the grill. Baste vegetables such as red peppers, corn, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms or onions, season with herbs and place on a hot grill until they are tender and brown. In addition to adding color and flavor to your cookout, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet is linked with a reduced risk of some chronic diseases, such as heart diseasediabetes and even some types of cancer.

Bar the char.

When proteins in meat, chicken and fish are cooked at searing high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (or HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (or PAHs) can naturally form, especially where meat is charred. While research on the health effects isn’t conclusive, the quality of the meat is better if you avoid charring.

Tips for reducing the dangers*:
  • Trim fat and remove skin from meat prior to cooking.
  • Emerging research suggests marinating meat for at least 30 minutes can reduce the formation of HCAs.
  • Cook foods at a low temperature, and to the outside of the flame rather than directly over it to help prevent flaming.
  • Drain away high-fat marinades and have a spray bottle with water ready for flare-ups.
  • Flip food frequently to prevent crusting, and scrape off charred areas before eating meat, poultry or fish.
  • Use a food thermometer to determine when food is done, and to avoid overcooking and charring.
California BBQ Veggie Sliders

2 cans (15½ ounces each) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 green onions, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
1 large carrot, shredded (about 1 cup)
Sea salt, toaste
Black pepper, to taste
⅓ cup whole wheat flour (or garbanzo bean flour)
Mini whole grain hamburger buns, toasted
Avocado (optional), to taste
Tomato (optional), to taste
Barbecue sauce (optional), to taste

  1. In a food processor or with a hand blender, puree beans and oil until smooth.
  2. Stir in onions, carrots, salt and pepper. Add in flour until mixture comes together.
  3. Form 12 mini patties.
  4. Grill until each side is browned (about 4 minutes per side).
  5. Assemble burger on bun with avocado, tomato and barbecue sauce.

Serves 12

(Calories: 90; Total Fat: 3g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Trans Fat: 0g: Cholesterol: 0mg: Sodium: 160mg: Total Carbohydrate: 14g; Dietary Fiber: 3g; Sugars: 1g; Protein: 4g; Vitamin A: 30%; Vitamin C: 2%; Calcium: 2%; Iron: 4%)

Grilled Fruit Kebabs

12 skewers
4 cups assorted cubed fruit
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-hot.
  2. Thread fruit cubes evenly onto the skewers, alternating the fruit varieties.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together honey, vanilla extract and ground cinnamon.

Lightly brush the kebobs with oil and place on the grill. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes per side, basting with the honey mixture until you see grill marks. Remove from grill and brush with any remaining honey. Serve warm.

Serves 6

(Calories: 89; Total fat: 2g; Saturated fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 1mg; Carbohydrates: 18g; Fiber: 1g; Sugars: 15g; Protein: 1g; Potassium: 142mg; Phosphorus: 13mg)

Cooking Notes

  • Some of the best fruits for grilling include pineapple, peaches, plums, apricots and watermelon.
  • If using wooden skewers, make sure to soak them for at least 2 hours before grilling.
All-Purpose Marinade

¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 green onions (chopped)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl
  2. Place your food in the marinade and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours before grilling
  3. Discard excess marinade if used with raw meat, poultry or seafood.  

 Adapted from a recipe featured on eatright.org.

*Based off of content from HomeFoodSafety.org.

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