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Fire up healthy flavor for summer grill

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As the weather heats up, the last place I want to be is cooking over a hot oven. Summer invites backyard barbecuing and like many others, you’ll find me outdoors grilling and enjoying the simplicity of summer.

Just like cooking in the kitchen, it’s fun to get creative and venture away from the

JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL Registered dietitian Jennie McCary tops off grilled fruit kabobs with yogurt and toasted coconut.

Registered dietitian Jennie McCary tops off grilled fruit kabobs with yogurt and toasted coconut.

traditional burgers and dogs.

Grilling can be a healthy cooking method, depending on what you choose and how you prepare it.

While there isn’t enough evidence that grilled meat specifically increase cancer risk, it’s known that cooking meat at high temperatures creates HCAs, heterocyclic amines, and PAHs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

These known carcinogens are linked to higher rates of some cancers, including colorectal cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research recently issued their seasonal advice on safer grilling and specifically recommends staying away from processed meats.

Here are tips to minimize the formation of carcinogens and enjoy a more flavorful backyard barbecue.

Start with a clean grill: You don’t want a build-up of chemicals with your next meal. Get a good grill brush and scrub after each use.

Choose lean: Ribs, sausages and burgers can pack in more than a day’s worth of artery-clogging saturated fat. Plus, when fat drips on hot coals it smokes; where there is smoke, there is exposure to PAHs. Using foil and wood planks can also help. Leaner choices include seafood, lean turkey burgers, chicken, tempeh or extra-firm tofu. The longer a muscle food is exposed to high heat, the greater the HCA formation. Seafood and skewered meat take less time to grill.

Marinate: Not only does it add flavor, studies show marinating meat limits HCA formation. In one study, researchers marinated steaks for one hour in three different mixtures of vinegar, oil, herbs and spices. After grilling, carcinogens in the marinated steaks were cut by 57 percent to 88 percent, depending on the blend.

Since store-bought marinades are often filled with sugar and sodium, make your

JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL Jennie McCrary brushes some chimichurri sauce on grilled cauliflower steaks.

Jennie McCrary brushes some chimichurri sauce on grilled cauliflower steaks.

own (see recipe). Add aromatics – spices, herbs and garlic – for further flavor and protection. A 2010 study in the Journal of Food Science found that rubbing rosemary extract on ground beef patties reduced HCAs after grilling by 90 percent. This is likely through the action of potent antioxidants, also found in basil, oregano, and thyme.

Don’t overcook: Those smoky charred pieces aren’t particularly good for you. Avoid charring by grilling over indirect heat. If you want a good sear, move meat directly over the flame near the end of cooking. If meat chars, trim it to cut down on HCAs. Overcooking is a flavor robber. A digital thermometer is the single best way to tell if your meat is done. Goal temps include 165 degrees for poultry, 160 degrees for ground meat, and 145 degrees for pork and steak. When fish easily flakes with a fork, it’s done. See

When it comes to overall health, what you throw on the grill matters more than how you grill.

Summer’s real flavors are found in fresh produce. Add more veggies and fruit to the grill for an extra boost of cancer protective compounds.

If you’re looking to go beyond a simple mix of peppers, onions and zucchini, try out these fun ways to grill more veggies:

• Grill polenta slices with veggies topped with pesto.

• Create a savory portabella burger.

• Skewer the simple ingredients of caprese salad and grill it for a mouthwatering variation.

• Grill potato salad.

• Try pizza.

• Grill romaine.

• Create grilled tandoori tofu or tempeh.

• Add squash, tomatoes and fish with grilled citrus slices to a foil pouch.

Grilling gives fruit a burst of caramelized flavor. Lightly brush cut fruit with oil and cook over low to medium heat. Start by grilling a fruit kabob. Grilled peaches are delicious drizzled with balsamic vinegar, grilled melon with raw greens, and sprinkle pineapple with chile powder.

With the right ingredients and attention to method, you can enjoy sweet and savory summer grilling for better health.

Jennie McCary, MS, RDN, is an Albuquerque-based dietitian nutritionist. She practices in corporate wellness and consults in family nutrition, personal meal planning and cooking. She is a member of the NM Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and can be reached at



1 medium head of cauliflower


3 cloves garlic, peeled

2 cups loosely packed fresh parsley

1¼ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup water or low-sodium vegetable broth (more to thin)

Blend all chimichurri ingredients until relatively smooth. This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower, leaving the stem and core. Stand upright and slice lengthwise into 3 or 4 thick “steaks.” Place on a baking sheet and brush both sides with olive oil. Transfer cauliflower to the grill (with or without foil) and cook over medium high heat, 5 minutes each side. Serve with room temperature chimichurri.


2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoon fresh rosemary (¾ teaspoon dried and crushed)

1½ teaspoon fresh thyme (½ teaspoon dried)

1½ teaspoon fresh oregano (½ teaspoon dried)

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Juice of half lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients. Keep ¼ cup for basting.

In a large zip top bag, combine meat or poultry with marinade and marinate for 1 hour. Drain before grilling.


Fruit of choice

½ cup canned light coconut milk, add more to desired consistency

1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon lemon zest

Half of lemon, squeezed

1-2 teaspoons honey

2 teaspoons fresh mint, chopped

¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

Chop fruit into big pieces and thread on soaked skewers. Lightly brush with oil. Grill for 1-2 minutes on each side.

In a small bowl, mix coconut milk, yogurt, lemon zest and juice, honey and mint. Drizzle over fruit kabobs or serve on the side.

Top with toasted coconut flakes.