Every June we celebrate our beloved fathers, and we also do a lot of summer grilling. One of my favorite food memories growing up was watching my Dad grill his famous barbequed chicken. It was a true labor of love as he took pride in every detail from preparing his secret tangy sauce to perfectly placing each coal. I watched him flip and turn each chicken inspecting it for cooked perfection, hoping for a sneak preview bite before anyone else. Grilling goes beyond a healthy and delicious way of cooking, but serves as a way to connect and enjoy the company of our family and friends.

While many of us love that charred flavor from the grill, we need to make sure our cooking technique is serving our health well. Recent attention has focused on the link between grilling and certain cancers such as stomach, colorectal, lung, and breast cancer. The culprits are cancer-causing agents called heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are chemical substances that are formed when fat is heated to high temperatures.

So now what? Cut back on grilling and social cooking? Absolutely not. There are several tips you can follow to relieve your grilling woes, and it can all start with a tasty marinade. A recent study from Kansas State University marinated the same cut of meat in 3 different marinades. The various marinades reduced these “bad” chemicals anywhere from 57-88%, quite a significant impact! Researchers suspect that the antioxidants in marinades, specifically the spices and herbs, are responsible for protecting against carcinogens. Herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano seem to be the best defenders.

Here are some additional steps for healthy grilling and a turkey burger recipe (which received rave reviews) that won’t fall into any bland or dry stereotypes!

Be In-DIRECT. Avoid placing meats in direct contact with high flames or extreme heat through grilling, broiling, barbecuing, or frying.

Get Creative! Grill foods such as vegetables, veggie burgers, quesadillas, or even pizza. These foods contain little fat and can be a fun new food to introduce to the grill.

Flip often. Flipping your meats every minute or so reduces HCA’s by almost 70%.

Buy Bone In: Choose lean and trimmed meats, but leave the bone in! A lean meat will cause less fat causing flare-ups, and leaving the bone in makes for a juicy meat.

Go Silver: Place meat on aluminum foil instead of directly on the grill to avoid juices into the fire or flames touching the meat. Not only does this help prevent charring, but it also makes for easy cleanup.

Keep a spray bottle handy: Tame those flare-ups!

Curious about a dietitian’s favorite food to grill? Check out this recent article from FitBie.msn.com. 

My favorite turkey burger recipe from Epicurious makes the list! “Goat cheese stuffed turkey burger” 

What’s to love: Compared to a regular burger, a ground breast turkey burger has about half the calories and two-thirds less fat with similar protein content. I can feel good about having a burger more than once a week!

Cooking tip: Since turkey breast is so lean and can easily dry out on the grill, mix the ground turkey with a little goat cheese, lemon zest, breadcrumbs, and a seasoning blend, and then shape the meat into patties.

How to eat them: Place the patty in whole-wheat pita bread with a little non-fat plain Greek yogurt, and top it with a mixture of jarred roasted red bell peppers and caramelized onions.


Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.