Grilling Tips: Do's and Don'ts

Make sure you're grilling up the healthiest food possible by following these dietitian-approved tips and tricks for the best grilled summer fare.

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Don't: Char Meat

While some people love the crispy charred bits on grilled meat, charred food isn't great for your health. Two potentially cancer-causing chemicals — heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — are formed when meat is cooked at high temperatures, particularly over an open flame. HCAs are created by a chemical reaction. PAHs occur when drippings land on the hot coals, causing flames to leap back up toward the meat, coating it with PAHs (they're also found in charred bits).

Do: Precook Meat in a Microwave to Reduce Cooking Time

One way to reduce the formation of those carcinogenic chemicals is to partially cook meat ahead of time in the microwave, then finish it off on the grill. A study in the June 2013 issue of the journal Meat Science found that precooking chicken and beef satays in the microwave before charcoal grilling reduced the amount of HCAs by up to 42 percent.

Do: Keep Flipping Burgers

Another way to lower the levels of PAHs and HCAs in grilled meat is to keep flipping it. Plus, you get to show off your skills.

Do: Cook Meat to Safe Temperatures

Be food-safety savvy and use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the foods you're grilling. Burgers should be cooked to 160 degrees F, since ground meat can harbor more bacteria. If you prefer your burgers medium rare, consider grinding meat yourself right before cooking. Turkey and chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees F; steak, pork or lamb chops should be cooked to 145 degrees F.

Don't: Put Cooking Spray on After the Grill Is Hot

Cooking spray can help keep food from sticking to the grill, but make sure you use it before you light the grill. Spraying a hot grill with cooking spray can cause flames to leap up.

Do: Make Kebabs

Cutting up pieces of meat and vegetables and skewering them before cooking reduces cooking time — one way to lower the harmful compounds that can be formed during grilling. Try Food Network Magazine's Sausage and Pepper Skewers.

Do: Try Coconut Shell Charcoal

This eco-friendly alternative to traditional wood charcoal may be better for your health, according to a 2012 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology. Researchers found that salmon grilled over coconut shell charcoal contained fewer heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAs) and PAHs than salmon cooked over wood charcoal.

Coshell 9 Pound Coconut Charcoal Briquettes, Amazon.com.

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