Grilling becomes a convenient, delicious, and fun way to prepare food. While grilling can be a healthy method of cooking, the National Cancer Institute cautions that grilling certain meats, poultry and fish at high heat over open flames can cause carcinogens to form on the food. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables do not form carcinogens when they are charred. Here are a few tips to consider keeping the food you’re grilling healthy and safe for family and friends.

Start with Seasoning – Marinades and dry rubs can add great flavor and reduce the formation of carcinogens on grilled meat, poultry, and fish.

  • Make your own marinades and dry rubs. Store bought versions often contain added sugars and large amounts of sodium. Limiting your added sugar and sodium intake are key parts of a healthy diet according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines.
  • Look for dry rub or marinade recipes that include garlic, ginger, thyme, rosemary and/or red chili pepper. Research suggests these are among the best herbs to prevent carcinogen formation. Try vinegar or fresh citrus juice for low-calorie marinade bases.
  • Choose recipes without sugar because it can increase carcinogen formation. For a sweet marinade, use pure honey; research indicates that honey lowers the amount of carcinogen formation.

Grilling Techniques – Charring and smoke from fat drip can cause carcinogen formation on grilled meats, poultry, and fish. However, there are things you can do to reduce charring and smoke.

  • Clean your grill before use with a metal bristle brush. Then, wipe down the grates with a towel to ensure any stray bristles are gone. Charred leftovers contain 10 to 100 times more carcinogens than grilled meats.
  • Trim the fat off animal proteins to limit the fat drip flare ups that result in charring and smoke that produce carcinogens.
  • Choose chicken breasts without the skin, lean turkey burgers and/or fish instead of beef and pork because they are lower in fat and result in fewer fat drip flare ups.
  • Cook animal proteins at a lower temperature and flip meat often to prevent a lot of charring.
  • As noted above, fruits and vegetables are a great choice if you like the blackened flavor. In addition, they are low in calories and loaded with fiber and other nutrients.

Cook Vegetables – Increase non-meat variety on the grill with vegetable options. Cook like burgers or make kabobs; produce is always a great option on the grill.

  • Veggie burgers and portabella mushroom caps are an excellent option for vegetarians, vegans and those watching their animal-based protein intake.
  • Bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash and asparagus are some of the many veggies that taste great when grilled.

Safe Food Preparation and Storage – Raw meats, poultry and fish have harmful bacteria on them, so they should be prepared separately and not consumed raw. The bacterial danger zone is 40-140°F. In this temperature range, bacteria can grow rapidly on and within food.

  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator or the microwave. Never thaw food on the counter because bacteria can grow and multiply rapidly at room temperature.
  • Do not wash raw animal proteins because the water can spread bacteria to your sink, countertops and other kitchen surfaces.
  • Clean all surfaces that raw animal proteins touch with anti-bacterial products to prevent foodborne illness.
  • Store raw poultry in a refrigerator up to 2 days or freezer up to 1 year. Cook all poultry to a minimum temperature of 165 °F.
  • Store raw hamburgers and ground beef, veal, pork or lamb in a refrigerator up to 2 days or freezer up to 4 months. Hamburgers and other ground meats should reach 160 °F.
  • Store whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal or beef in a refrigerator up to 5 days or freezer up to 6 months. Cook whole cuts of these meats to at least 145 °F as measured by a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat.
  • Cooked poultry or meat leftovers can be stored 3 to 4 days in a refrigerator or frozen for 2 to 6 months.
  • Perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours. If the temperature is over 90 °F food shouldn’t sit out more than one hour.

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On the Tap – It’s important to start your summer barbecue off on the right foot. When your guests arrive, offer them healthier options in place of soda, juice and lemonade.

  • Fill a pitcher with water and add fresh citrus fruit or cucumber slices. You can do the same thing with club soda or sparkling water for those who enjoy the fizz from carbonation.
  • Make unsweetened iced tea. For those who like a little extra flavor, try flavored teas like mint, raspberry, or passion fruit.
  • Alcoholic drinks should be used responsibly and should never be counted on for hydration. Keep hydrated by alternating with a glass of water between or after alcoholic beverages.

On the Side – Skip side dishes that are heavy on mayonnaise and cheese like potato salad, coleslaw and mac and cheese.

  • Choose whole grain buns to make sandwiches or whole grain bread as a side dish.
  • Mixed leafy greens or whole wheat pasta salads with a light vinaigrette dressing are better options. Add fruit or other veggies to make them more satisfying and nutritious.
  • A mixture of roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes with a little olive oil and seasoning are a great substitute for French fries. You can also offer whole grain tortilla chips and salsa in place of regular potato chips and dip.

Dish up DessertCookies, cakes, ice cream and pies contain a lot of added sugar and saturated fat.

  • Grill sliced peaches, pears or pineapple. The heat caramelizes the natural sugar. Pair with fat free vanilla yogurt instead of pie.
  • Fresh fruit smoothies made with fat free vanilla yogurt are great in place of ice cream.
  • Angel food cake with berries and whipped cream provide plenty of “sweet” with fewer calories.