Your Perfect Grill Night!
By Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff
June 17, 2014
By Kristin Oriogun, MPH, CNS, LN
It’s officially summertime—finally! After an especially brutal winter, I’m sure everyone was eager to pack away the winter boots and break out the flip-flops. Summer also signifies another very important event—the beginning of grilling season. Grilling is a wonderful way to prepare meals. It’s quick, convenient and comes with minimal clean-up. If you haven’t already christened the grill for the season, hopefully these recipes will inspire you to do so. But first, a few general grill guidelines.
What type of grill should I use? Charcoal vs. Gas
There have been many heated debates over the years as to which type of grill is better, gas or charcoal. When it comes to convenience, gas grills have a huge advantage over charcoal. They start easily with the touch of a button, unlike charcoal grills which require 15-30 minutes to properly prepare. But perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing between gas and charcoal is safety. In regards to this category, gas grills also come out on top. They involve fewer chemicals and allow you to better control the temperature to prevent charring. Char-broiling meat at high heats creates high levels of heterocyclic amines (HA), which are known cancer-causing chemicals. It’s important to note that no matter which method you choose, gas or charcoal, over-charring meat is problematic and should be avoided.
So, what about flavor? Many people find that charcoal takes the prize in this category. The good news for charcoal enthusiasts everywhere, is that there are several steps you can take to reduce the health risks that come with charcoal grilling.
- Use all-natural charcoal. Many popular charcoal brands contain added chemicals for easier lighting. Unfortunately, these chemicals can also migrate into food. Since there haven’t been any studies done on the safety of food residues from chemically-enhanced charcoal, it is difficult to say what health consequences might exist. It’s better to be safe than sorry so opt instead for all-natural charcoal, which does not contain added chemicals and is better for the environment.
- Use a chimney starter instead of lighter fluid to start the coals. This prevents you from inhaling harmful chemicals. Lighter fluid can also impart toxins along with unpleasant flavors to the food.
- Use indirect cooking methods. This is important even if you are using a gas grill. Most of the harmful chemicals are produced when the food is placed directly above the heat source and the fat from the meat is allowed to drip on the coals. You can avoid this issue by positioning coals to the side of the grill and food in the center when cooking. And, while that black char on the steak is tasty, it’s also carcinogenic so trim any highly-charred areas after cooking.
Once the coals are ready, place the grill grate on top and clean thoroughly. Use a grill brush or as shown in the picture below, an onion stump drizzled with oil, which not only cleans but also seasons the grill.
Now that your grill is ready, it’s time to get cooking!
Let’s face it, most foods taste better on the grill—you don’t have to get too fancy most days of the week. If however, you are looking for an opportunity to show off your grilling skills for family, friends or that special someone we have designed an easy, perfectly balanced 3-course grill menu that is sure to impress.
- Grilled Grass-Fed Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
- Marinated Vegetable Kabobs
- Grilled Peaches and Cream
1. Grilled Grass-Fed Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I fell in love with the Chimichurri sauce that accompanies many of the local Puerto Rican dishes. This recipe features grass-fed steak which has a higher concentration of nutrients compared to conventional meat, including heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Grass-fed cuts are also leaner in general and can become tough if not cooked properly. Marinating the steak beforehand and taking care to not overcook, are two important considerations when cooking grass-fed beef on the grill.
- 2 pounds grass-fed skirt or flank steak
For marinade (Save half of this marinade for vegetable kabobs):
- 1 cup olive oil
- ½ cup balsamic or red-wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves garlic
For chimichurri sauce:
- 1 cup firmly-packed parsley
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Combine marinade ingredients in a food processor, or if you don’t have a food processor chop garlic separately and whisk together with the other ingredients. Feel free to throw in some extra herbs from your garden. Place meat in glass dish or plastic bag and cover with half the marinade (save the remainder for the vegetable kabobs). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Step 2: While the steak marinates, prepare the chimichurri sauce by combining all ingredients in a food processor. Again, if you do not have a food processor you can chop ingredients by hand and whisk together.
Step 3: After the steaks have sufficiently marinated it’s time to grill. Depending on the thickness of the cut, grill steaks for 2-3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Cook a few minutes longer for medium or medium-well keeping in mind that you don’t want to overcook grass-fed meat. Again, be careful to not char the meat. When meat is done to your liking, cover and let rest for 15-minutes. This allows the meat to re-absorb its juices and also gives you a perfect amount of time to grill the vegetable kabobs. When ready to serve, cut steaks into 4-ounce servings and top each with one tablespoon of the chimchurri sauce. Save the extra sauce for a future meal. It tastes great on top of almost every protein.
2. Marinated Vegetable Kabobs
These kabobs are just as much a show-stopper as the main course for this grill menu. Grilling vegetables is a great way to bring out their full flavor potential. Putting veggies on skewers also guarantees your kids or grand kids will eat them—kids love to eat anything from a stick!
- 5-10 wood skewers
- 4-6 cups of your favorite vegetables—good skewer vegetables include: mushrooms, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and onions
- Marinade—the unused portion from the steak preparation
Step 1: Cut veggies into equally sized 1-2” chunks
Step 2: Pour marinade over veggies, or for better coverage, place veggies in a plastic bag and toss well with marinade. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Step 3: During the last 30 minutes of marinating time, soak the skewers in water to prevent them from catching fire on the grill. When the veggies have finished marinating, remove them from the marinade and assemble the skewers. Have fun with this—now would be a great time to get the kids in the kitchen!
Step 4: Place veggie skewers on the grill and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Charring veggies does not produce the same toxic chemicals as charred meat, so feel free to give the veggies a light char if you wish.
3. Grilled Peaches and Cream
Take a step away from conventional dessert recipes and try something different with these grilled peaches and cream. This recipe is delicious and incredibly easy so it won’t take you away from your guests for long. If using charcoal, the coals should still be plenty warm by the time you finish the main meal. Have everything prepped and ready to go beforehand to make assembly even quicker.
- 2 peaches (or ½ peach per guest)
- 4 Tbsp. full-fat cream cheese
- 1 tsp. pure maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp. crushed walnuts or pecans to garnish
Step 1: Cut peaches into halves and remove pits. This is a bit tricky if the peaches are too ripe. If you’re having difficulties, slicing peaches into quarters is fine too. These don’t have to look pretty—they will still taste great!
Step 2: Grill peaches pit side down for 5 minutes. Turn peaches over and place a dollop of cream cheese on each piece. Grill for 2 minutes more until the cream cheese is warm. Transfer to serving platter, top with nuts and drizzle with maple syrup.
There you have it—an easy, delicious and healthy 3-course grill menu that your guests will love!
I think most of us can agree that there's something about the act of grilling that just makes food look and taste fantastic. And since you already went to the trouble to get the grill ready, why not use the opportunity to cook up a few other protein options for the rest of the week? You will be thankful later when your fridge is stocked with delicious grilled burgers, chicken and pork that you can grab and re-heat in a hurry!