Planning a cookout for Memorial Day? That’s a great idea: Grilling is a naturally healthy way to prepare food, says Jessica Palumbo, RD, a dietitian at Glen Cove Hospital -- as long as you take a few simple precautions and make smart choices about the menu.
For summer celebrations that are safe, nutritious, and, of course, delicious, take these easy steps when you fire up your grill.
1. Marinate your meats.
Marinating steaks and poultry for at least 30 minutes before grilling has several pay-offs: First, it adds flavor and helps tenderize meat, so you can choose a leaner cut. And second, it seems to act as a barrier against the grill’s high heat. That’s important, because the char that can form on well-done meat, poultry, or seafood contains chemicals that have been linked to cancer. (A chemical reaction between animal proteins and high heat seems to be to blame.) “Just be sure to discard any marinade that was in contact with raw meat,” says Palumbo. “Don’t use it to baste your food while it cooks.”
2. Give your grill the brush-off.
Give your grill grates a good scrubbing before every use. Not only will this remove grease that could start a fire; it will also help remove potentially harmful bacteria that can breed in leftover food particles. Just be sure to inspect the grill if you’ve used a wire brush -- every year, a few people end up in the emergency department after swallowing bits of wire bristle that are left behind and stick to food like hamburgers. Another smart move: Check the brush before you use it, and toss it out if the bristles are loose.
3. Bring out the fruits and veggies.
“People forget that you can grill fruit,” says Palumbo. “The natural sugar in peaches and pineapples can caramelize and make them even sweeter, so they’re really delicious fresh off the grill.” Also extra-tasty: veggie kebabs, made with onions, peppers, zucchini, mushroom and tomato. Brush with a little olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning to bring the flavor out.
4. Cook it just right.
Undercooking meat can put you at risk for a food-borne illness, but you don’t want to overcook it, either—remember those dangerous chemicals formed when meat gets charred. Flip meat every minute to reduce the chance of burning it, and check it with a thermometer before taking it off the grill. Cook chicken to 165 degrees, ground beef or pork to 160, and steaks, chops or fish to 145.
5. Store leftovers promptly.
Don’t let perishables like burgers, hot dogs and dips sit out for more than two hours, says Palumbo, and if it’s 90 degrees or hotter, put food away within an hour. This protects against bacteria that can cause food poisoning, so you can enjoy your leftovers—if you have any, that is!