A healthy recipe for outdoor backyard fun
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
Nothing says summer like firing up the grill. The grilling-focused menu that follows will guarantee that you’ll be clamouring to get outdoors and cook up a storm all season long.
Canadian summers are fleeting. Which means we should take every opportunity possible to spend ample time in the great outdoors. So why be cooped up in your kitchen, when warmer days and nights are the perfect excuse to cook up a storm using the trusty grill? Regardless of where that may be—your backyard or at the cottage—grilling imbues foods with that cherished summertime flavour. If you think outside the box and expand your grilling repertoire, you can count on grilling season to be a health-boosting one as well. To help steer you toward grilling bliss, we’ve put together healthy grill recipes to feed a family or outdoor party replete with a selection of burgers you’ll flip over. And what also follows is plenty of handy tips to help you grill like a pro.
Arm yourself with this grill gear to make your outdoor cooking a refreshing breeze.
This allows you to clean the entire surface of your gunked-up grill grate without charring your fingers.
A wide head spatula helps you flip with confidence by increasing the chances you’ll serve burgers and fish in one piece. A plastic spatula may melt when exposed to the high heat of the grill.
These are ideal for moving around fruits and vegetables on the grill and even cuts of meat such as chicken breast.
Silicone bristles can handle the heat, making them ideal for lubricating grates and food alike.
An ideal way to hold small pieces of vegetables and items such as cherry tomatoes without the fear they’ll be sent to the flames below. For burgers, especially delicate legume-based ones, place a cast iron griddle on the grill grate. This will make flipping them easier.
There are some important measures you can take to prevent burgers and other grilled foods from adhering to the grill grate like cement.
A spotless grate goes a long way toward reducing sticking and avoiding a burnt flavour. The best time to clean the grate is immediately after you remove your food from the grill or after it has been preheated for several minutes and is piping hot.
Food is less likely to stick to a very hot grill grate. Preheat your grill on high for at least 10 minutes. You can reduce the temperature after preheating. Preparing meats at lower grill temperatures helps lessen the risk of charring. Those blackened bits of meat can contain potentially carcinogenic compounds. Be sure to scrape off any charred pieces before consuming.
For double protection against sticking, grease the grill grate and apply a light coating of oil to the food itself. In fact, applying some oil to meat helps promote good caramelization and seals in juices (read: yum!). To grease a hot grill grate, use a silicone brush or a paper towel dipped in oil and rubbed on the grate using tongs. Do not use cooking spray on a hot grill.
Meat shouldn’t get all the BBQ love. Fresh produce such as bell peppers, mushrooms, peaches, tomatoes, and mangoes taste even better when infused with a little smoky essence.
Mix meat and seasonings with a light hand. Overhandling can cause the beef to turn tough like jerky.
Only flip burgers once on the grill, and never press down on them, as you’ll force out flavourful juices and encourage flare-ups that can lead to charring.
Use a kitchen scale if you want your patties to be of equal weight. This helps them cook in the same amount of time. Ideally, formed burgers should be no more than 1 in (2.5 cm) thick so that the outsides don’t char before the insides are cooked through.
Before serving, let burgers rest for about five minutes after cooking to help redistribute the juices.
A more sustainable food culture would be one that includes less red meat. But when you decide to embrace your inner carnivore and grill a steak or beef burger, make sure it hails from an animal that was raised on pasture. Not only is it more enviro-friendly with fewer animal welfare concerns, but grass-fed beef gives you a bigger nutritional bang for your buck.
Just like us, cows are what they eat. And if they eat grass, as nature intended, the steaks and burgers they produce will be more nutrient dense, including higher amounts of antioxidants such as vitamin E and a better overall fat profile such as increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
What’s more, industrial beef fattened up unnaturally on grains is more likely to be contaminated with bacteria linked to food poisoning. Add an organic certification, and it’s a guarantee that the animal was not administered any antibiotics and feasted on pasture not treated with chemicals such as pesticides. Grass-fed beef can be leaner overall, so don’t overcook it and don’t use more than medium heat on the grill.
The best way to determine when meats are safe to eat without overcooking them is to use an instant-read thermometer that you insert into the centre of a burger or cut of meat. Burgers are safe to eat when an internal temperature of 160 F (71 C) is reached for red meat and 165 F (74 C) for ground poultry.
For grilling, use an oil that can handle the heat. Options include grapeseed, camelina, organic canola, or avocado oil.
Don’t overstuff your grill grate with too much food. It makes it less likely everything will cook evenly and makes it more difficult to flip items and move them around if flare-ups occur.
For many people, a burger isn’t a burger without the bun. And yes, you should have some on hand if you’re feeding a crowd. But a well-made burger with plenty of exciting flavours can be just as great without being placed between two slabs of bread. Plus, going sans bun saves you some calories. But if you just need that bun for your burger, be sure to choose one made with whole grains and toast it first for that tasty, crispy texture.