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Be Your Own Grill Master
Guys aren't the only ones who like to play with fire. Girls can man the grill with the best of them. And we aren't just plopping frozen patties and hot dogs on a bed of charcoals. Anyone can do that. No, we are getting straight-up culinary — and healthy — in our backyards.
So whether you're a newbie or queen of the cookout, here's how to cook like one lean, mean, grill-master machine.
Learn the Lingo
First things first: You need to know what in the world you're talking about. Here are the top must-know cookout terms you probably don't know from celebrity chef Diane Dimeo, champion of Food Network's Chopped. Throw a few out to your friends and you'll sound seriously legit.
- Bark: Any outside portion of meat that becomes dark, crispy, and seared when cooked at high temps.
- Brine: A salt and water mixture for soaking meat prior to cooking to help it retain its moisture and preserve it.
- Black and Blue: Meat that is quickly seared so it is done on the outside and raw on the inside.
- Butterflying: Slicing a cut of meat down the middle into a butterfly shape so the meat is thinner and cooks more quickly.
- Fat Cap: Fat that sits in between the meat and the skin, typically on one side of beef cuts.
- Marinade: A liquid, typically acidic, that's used to soak meats prior to cooking, tenderizing the meat and infusing it with flavor.
- Rub: Typically a dry mix of herbs and spices that is applied by hand to meat before cooking. Wet rubs contain some liquid ingredients, but are still rubbed on the outside of meat and not used as a soak.
- Smoking: Slowly cooking meat or produce along with a smoke-producing substance such as wood chips to give a hickory or smoked flavor to the food.
- Sweating: Cooking food, typically meat or vegetables, at low heat, constantly turning or stirring the food for even cooking.
Master the Meat Market
Sure, picking beef, pork, chicken, or fish is important, but if that's as picky as you get, you're torching your cookout from the get-go. Here are best cuts for your taste buds — and bikini.
Beef: Getting your steak on? A rib eye is the go-to cut for executive chef Sylvain Desbois of The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort's signature restaurant, Carolina. He recommends choosing grass-fed beef whenever possible as it adds to the cut's flavor and health factor. If burgers are on the menu, ask your butcher to grind the rib eye along with some short ribs, adds Dimeo. The quality and flavor will be amazing — especially if you're used to eating once-frozen patties. About 70 percent of the ground beef at the supermarket contains beef trimmings disgustingly dubbed "pink slime," according to a former United States Department of Agriculture scientist. Whatever you're cooking, if you're cutting calories, opt for meats labeled as chuck, round, and loin. They are typically among the lowest in saturated fat, says Shira Lenchewski, RD, founder of the Work+Play Method.
Chicken: If you're a breast girl, you're a breast girl. But when placed on the grill, legs and thighs retain their moisture better, improving their flavor, says Dimeo.
Pork: Ribs and loins are about the most flavorful and tender cuts out there, Dimeo says. Thick-cut chops are also good on the grill.
Fish: Just because you aren't eating beef doesn't mean you don't deserve a steak. Salmon, tuna, and swordfish steaks are among the easiest (and tastiest) to fish to prepare because they're thick, compact, and won't crumble. What's more, they're filled with monounsaturated fatty acids, making them both healthy and delicious, says Lenchewski.
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Give your dish a healthy dose of flavor: Besides tasting great, produce-packed marinades can actually reduce grilled meat's production of certain cancer-causing chemicals by as much as 70 percent, according to a review in Natural Medicine Journal.
And as far as your jaws are concerned, marinades are great, too. "Since leaner cuts of meat can be on the tough side, I recommend marinades with acidic ingredients like Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and vinegar that can tenderize the meat," says Lenchewski. "Experimenting with herbs and spices like mint, dill, cumin, and rosemary is also a great way to add a lot of flavor without additional calories."
Mix your marinade with one part acidic ingredients and two parts flavorful liquids like soy sauce, fruit juice, beer, or wine — plus spices and add-ins like mustard. Let especially tough cuts soak for a full 12 hours in the fridge before cooking. Not into marinades? Rubs pack health and flavor benefits, too.
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Heat Things Up
Blackening a burger will hurt more than your pride. When meat's cooked at high temperatures or charred, it forms potentially carcinogenic heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, according to the National Cancer Institute.
That doesn't mean you have to eat everything rare, which if done incorrectly could have health hazards of its own. Turn down the heat and zap your meat for 60 to 90 seconds in the microwave before cooking to reduce high-heat exposure time. Direct exposure to high temps — especially above 300 degrees — are a main contributor to HCA and PAH production in meat, according to the institute.
Not sure if your meat is done? Instead of slicing open your main course, put your meat thermometer to good use. One out of every four burgers turns brown in the middle before it's safe to eat, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Use these guidelines to cook your fave cuts of meat.
Beef: Depending on your preferences, you can cook beef for more or less time, but it should typically take about 20 minutes to grill a steak, says Desbois. But don't put it on the grill cold. Before cooking, let it sit out to get up to or above room temperature, he advises. A safe inside temperature for ground beef is 160 degrees Fahrenheit; medium-rare steaks should reach 145 degrees, according to the USDA.
Chicken: The best way to grill a chicken is to put it diagonally on the grill for four minutes, then rotate it to the opposite diagonal for other two. Flip and repeat on the opposite side. Then, let it sit outside the grill for five minutes so it retains its juices, Desbois says. Cook ground poultry to 165 degrees and whole cuts like breasts to 170, advises the USDA. "Don't be fooled by the blood on the bones from the legs and thighs," says Dimeo, who adds the blood is bone marrow leaking from the bone and nothing to worry about.
Pork: A chop or loin needs about 30 minutes to cook on the grill, and a loin needs to sit for about 10 more after cooking and before slicing. If you are making BBQ ribs, boil the ribs first for 30 minutes, then marinate them with the barbecue sauce and grill them for 15, recommends Dubois. It'll keep the meat and sauce from charring. Whatever your method, the inside of pork should hit 160 degrees, according to the USDA.
Fish: Regardless of your fish choice, you'll know it's cooked when it's semi-opaque throughout. To get a good look inside, insert a knife in the thickest part of the fish and turn it just slightly to keep from crumbling the fish, he says. NSF International recommends cooking fish to 145 degrees.
Don't Skimp on the Sides
Cooking out isn't just for meat eaters. With some help from the grill, pretty much everything can taste like summer. Squash, eggplant, asparagus, peppers, and even apples, peaches, watermelon, pineapple, oranges, and bananas are all amazing grilled, says Dimeo.
While there's no real rule when it comes to cooking time (but the longer you cook them, the softer they'll get), first toss them in a bit of oil and salt, and keep your grill on high heat. "That way, you can achieve the grill marks and then move them to the part of the grill that is not so hot so you can cook them through," says Dimeo. Don't worry, produce doesn't contain meat's bad-for-you chemicals when cooked at high temps, so you can let them get as crispy as you want.
Cut Some Calories
Try one of these sneaky grilling tricks to slash calories as you cook:
- Rework Your Apps: "Start things off with crudites and hummus. Beginning your meal with this fiber-rich combo will help you control your appetite, so you can enjoy the main course without going overboard," Lenchewski says.
- Think Cookout, Not BBQ: That sweet and savory sauce tastes great for a reason: It's pretty much just colored sugar. Whenever your guests will allow it, skip the sauce for a healthy marinade or rub, Lenchewski says.
- Trim the Fat: Remove any fatty portions from your meat — but wait until you finish cooking, says Dimeo. Fat helps meat lock in its moisture. And, sure, people can trim the fat from their own plates, but cutting it off before serving will prevent tempting anyone's taste buds.
- Friend the Right Fats: Unsaturated fats, good. Saturated and trans fats, bad. Instead of coating your corn on the cob with butter, try a touch of extra-virgin olive oil, Lenchewski suggests. Instead of loading your burger with mayo, go with some omega-3 rich avocado. Dietary fat helps you absorb produce's nutrients including lycopene and beta-carotene, as well vitamins A, D, E, and K, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Slim Your Buns: Ditch the processed white flour buns for their 100 percent whole-grain counterparts, Lenchewski says. Look for ones marketed as "sandwich thin" to avoid surplus carbs.
- Save the Skins: Sneak some fiber into your spud salad by keeping the skins on your potatoes, she says. The trick also works with celery greens, fennel fronds, and apple peels.
- Throw Away the Bag on Chips: No cookout is complete without some crunch. Instead of munching on greasy potato chips, try making your own kale chips, Lenchewski says. Just toss the greens with olive oil and salt and bake at 275 degrees for 25 minutes.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, August 2013.