By Shawn McKee
The basics of grilling are simple: Use fire to cook meat. The cavemen did it. The pioneers did it.
In the summertime, people all over America get together and do it. There’s something wonderful about gathering around an open flame to heat — then eat — meat.
It could be the simplicity or the spectacle, but I tend to think it’s the flavor. There is nothing better than burgers, dogs, steaks or kebabs hot off the grill. Those juicy, smoky flavors that get your mouth watering with their aromas as they sizzle on the grill are the taste of summer.
“The great thing about grilling is that there’s no added calories from cooking oils or butters, and with fat in the meat (cooking out and) dripping off, you’re left with flavorful food with less fat,” according to Tracey Ryan, MS, RD, eDiets Manager of Nutrition Support. “Of course, you should try and select lean cuts of meat and season them with herbs and spices instead of marinades for the healthiest grilling.”
While grilling may be a simple way to make healthy, delicious dishes, there are a few tricks to take your cookout from caveman to connoisseur in no time.
Tools of the Trade
Make sure to keep your grill clean by scraping it after each use (if it’s still warm, it’s much easier). If you decide you can’t wait to eat and simply lack the time to scrape the grill — or just forget — make sure to scrape it before the next use. Again, if you warm it up and then turn the fire to low, it will be easier.
If you’re cooking burgers, you’ll need a large metal spatula. For almost anything else, you’re going to want to invest in a nice set of tongs. I used to use a fork to flip my steaks and such, but one of my chef friends explained that I was letting a lot of the sweet juices out through those little holes. I made the switch, and my meats have never been more succulent.
Choosing the proper meat is crucial to your backyard barbeque. Knowing how many people you’re entertaining — and how much clean up you want to do — will help decide what to cook. Although steaks are always a favorite on the grill, making steaks for a large group can be difficult and costly, but for a small gathering, here’s how to select a steak:
Pick a steak that is 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick or more so it won’t dry out as easily during grilling. Sirloin is a lean, tender cut of meat. Slash the edges of the fat every inch or so to avoid curling and avoid the urge to eat the fat when it’s done cooking. Cook over a medium-high heat and flip once.
Hamburgers and hot dogs are the best thing to cook at large gatherings. No utensils are necessary, and if you do it right, you can even keep them pretty healthy. Make burger patties about 1-inch thick so they stay juicy while cooking and stick with leaner meat; 85/15 and 90/10 are both good selections, Tracey says.
When it comes to meat, not all wieners are created equally.
“Beef hot dogs must contain only beef with no soybean protein or dry milk solid fillers added,” says eDiets Director of Nutrition Services, Pam Ofstein. “Kosher dogs are all-beef and do not have natural casing (sheep intestine). As for the term ‘frankfurter,’ they may contain up to 3.5 percent fillers (use your imagination) and made from a combination of meats.”
So stick to hot dogs at your cookout to avoid the mystery meats. You can also switch to turkey hot dogs to save yourself a few calories.
Finally, grab the whole grain buns to get some extra fiber and hold the mayo when dressing your dog or burger. Mayonnaise is basically egg yolks and oil, so it’s high in calories. One tablespoon will add about 100 calories and 11 grams of fat to your burger, so go with ketchup and mustard instead.