Golden brown is the new black when it comes to grilling. Here are my top tips for healthy grilling that still tastes great.

Warm weather means outdoor dining and for many of us, that means cooking at home, as restaurants remain closed due to COVID19. Time to pull out the grill for some delicious and healthy home-cooked meals.

In addition to being a healthy way to cook once you know the tricks to keep it that way, grilled foods are just plain delicious. We grill most nights in the warm weather and even brave winter’s cold to have the flavor only high heat and fire can produce.

Every meal category can benefit from the grill, whether it’s the main focus — think meat, fish, meat substitutes — or a side dish.

In the plant kingdom, think outside the usual suspects — peppers, onions, and zucchini. They’re good, but if you’ve never tried sweet potato slabs, broccoli, or charred a ripe tomato to make salsa, you are missing out on a flavor festival.

Not to be humbug but when it comes to that charbroiled flavor we crave, there are health concerns I want you to know about. Here is a primer on how to grill safely without sacrificing taste.

When food comes in contact with high heat or fire, certain chemicals are produced that pose an increased cancer risk.

All high-heat cooking produces some potentially harmful substances, but grilling can create a chemical double-whammy. Scientists at the American Institute of Cancer Research have found that cooking red meat at high temperatures creates compounds called heterocyclic amines, found to be powerful cancer-causing agents in animals.

In addition, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons develop when the fat from the meat drips on a flame or hot coals and produces smoke. That’s the one-two punch. You can read more about this here on the Harvard Health newsletter online.

Another nasty by-product — Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs).

When food is cooked at high temperatures (including when it is pasteurized or sterilized!), the formation of AGEs in your food is increased. AGEs build up in your body over time leading to oxidative stress, inflammation, and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.

Oh, and wrinkles.

Yes, we’ve been cooking with fire for millennia, but the life expectancy of cave dwellers was many decades shorter than ours is today. Fewer years of shrimp on the barbie to test the limits of his or her immune system.

How to ensure you grill the healthy way?
  • Cook over a high heat to sear your food then lower it down to continue cooking.
  • Don’t put something on the grill that is dripping with oil. The less fat that drips into an open flame the less chance there is of carcinogenic smoke wafting up to coat your food.
  • Sear larger cuts of meat on a hot grill on both sides but finish cooking it in the oven. This is especially good for thicker cuts of meat which can dry out by the time you cook it through on the grill
  • Start chicken in the oven and cook about halfway through. You’ll need less smoke and chemicals to cook it through and give it flavor
  • Grill fish and chicken with the skin on. Remove it and enjoy the smoky flavored food beneath. The skin helps keep your protein from drying out and absorbs some of the negative effects of charring.
  • Don’t marinate in cheap oil like corn or soy oil. Their chemical structure changes when heated to high temperatures and the result is as damaging as trans fats. Use less expensive olive oil, sesame seed oil, or coconut oil. They can withstand the high heat without damage.
  • Grill lots of vegetables and fish, they require less cooking time. And vegetables contain antioxidants and this is just the kind of time to make sure your body has plenty on board.
  • Make your own marinades — Marinating meats before grilling or broiling them can reduce HCAs (according to some experts by 90 percent or more). Commercial ones are usually high in sugar, soy, trans fats, and other inflammation-causing ingredients.
  • Marinades made with vinegar or lemon act as an “invisible shield” that changes the acidity of the meat and prevents PAHs from sticking
  • If you still use a sugary barbecue sauce now and then, beware, they encourage charring. (I know it’s the best part!) Put them on after the food has been par-cooked and then don’t let it burn. Golden brown is a lovely color and much better for you than black.

Don’t fear the grilled meal reaper. Unless you are eating charred meats at every meal, you are not going to buy the farm in mid-steak. The tips above are to ensure that you can enjoy grilling at any time of year and lower your risk factors for preventable diseases.

That’s my job you know, to keep you around for a long time, in good health, with plenty of delicious.

Speaking of delicious, why not add a glass of your favorite red wine to your grilled dinner. Extra delicious and extra healthy for your heart.