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Outdoor Cooking in the Summertime

By Carol Witte, RDN, Program Director of Nutrition Services & Senior Centers

Summer CookingWarmer weather means it’s time to get outside! Whether you choose walking, gardening or enjoying the colors of nature, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors and move more! It is also a time when you can grill out more often. I love the smell of food cooking outdoors and am also a camper. For me, there is nothing more enjoyable than preparing a meal on a wood fire. Today we have so many options for cooking food outdoors. There is such a variety of grills available, including smaller sizes when cooking for one or two. While grilled foods are packed with flavor, the way you prepare them can have a big impact on how healthy they are. Below are a few tips for preparing food outside that is both tasty and good for you.

Trim the Fat, Marinate & Season and Cook on Indirect Heat
Searing meat helps to hold in moisture but be cautious to avoid charring your protein, whether it is chicken, beef, pork or fish. Marinate meat for at least 30 minutes before grilling. Acidic ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice and orange juice are effective at tenderizing your protein items. Try to cook at lower temperatures and use low sodium herb rubs to help reduce cancer-causing compounds that form where meat is charred. Remember to trim your fat, not only to have a leaner product, but also to prevent the fat from dripping and causing flames to flare. The resulting smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that have been linked to cancer. If cooking with charcoal, distribute the coals under half the grill and leave the other half empty or cover it lightly with a thin layer of coals. When cooking on a gas grill, only light one of the sides. By having a hot heat zone and a low heat zone, you can move the food items to ensure they are done properly and avoid burned edges. Don’t forget to use a food thermometer to ensure food has reached the safe minimum internal cooking temperatures. (Beef, fish and pork: 145°F, ground beef, sausage: 155°F and poultry:165°F.)

Keep It Clean
Too much heat isn’t the only thing that can turn a good barbecue bad. Make sure your food is safe by discarding any unused marinade and using clean utensils and plates for cooked food. Always start with a clean grill when cooking. Lighter fluid or other harmful substances can contaminate your food. Keep food at safe temperatures before cooking as well as after cooking. Cool leftovers in shallow pans and place them in the refrigerator as soon as possible but within 1-2 hours depending on the outdoor temperature.

Mix It Up
Read the nutrition label on pre-packaged marinades and barbeque sauces looking out for portion size related to sodium and carbohydrates. Try adding more vinegar, water and low sodium tomato sauce to barbeque sauces to help decrease sodium. Look for new recipe ideas that change the flavor without adding sodium and fat. Add color to your meal with fruits and vegetables, which are less likely to form carcinogens at high heat. Try swapping produce for animal protein. Barbecue a veggie or portobello mushroom burger. Thread tomatoes, onions, squash and peppers on skewers to make kabobs. Or grill pineapple, peaches or nectarines for a gooey, naturally sweet dessert. You’ll cut carcinogens and add cancer-fighting phytochemicals to your meal in the process.