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Healthy grilling - healthy eating

Grilling is a great way to add flavor to foods without adding fat. Plan meals that feature low fat favorites like skinless chicken, firm fleshed fish, pork tenderloin, flank steak, and sirloin. Make way for the multitude of fruit and vegetable combinations easily adapted to the grill.

Boosting the flavor

  • To add new flavors to your food, soak hardwoods (hickory, maple, fruitwood, pecan) in water for 30 minutes. Drain and toss on the hot coals.
  • Toss whole herbs or spices on top of hot coals as well. First, soak them in water, being careful to drain well. The herbs should simmer gently on the coals, not burn up. Try whole spices such as cinnamon, garlic, cloves, or citrus peel. Fresh herbs can also be bundled together and placed next to the food on the grill rack.


  • Long handled fork
  • Long handled tongs
  • Mitts
  • Spray bottle for dousing flames
  • Basting brush
  • Skewers - metal or bamboo (Soak bamboo first to prevent the skewers from burning.)
  • Grill baskets, grids, or other grill toppers (These help keep small delicate pieces intact.)

Barbecue basics

  • Allow 30 minutes for coals to reach cooking temperature. Eighty percent of coals should be ash white before cooking begins.
  • Use microwave precooking to reduce the amount of time needed. Transfer immediately from micro to grill to avoid bacterial growth.
  • Apply sauces containing honey, sugar, or tomato during the final 5-15 minutes of grilling to prevent charring.

Health tips

  • Trim fat before grilling. Remove skin from poultry.
  • Avoid oily marinades traditionally used to moisten meat. Substitute with fruit juices, vinegars, liqueurs, or wines that provide an acid for tenderizing.
  • Avoid charring meats. Don't let flames come in contact with food and avoid eating the charred surface. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) occur when fat drips from food onto hot coals and the smoke rises back up to the surface of the grilling food. PAHs have been linked to an increased risk for some cancers in populations that eat grilled foods on a regular basis. In the United States, though, our relatively low frequency of barbecuing makes PAHs an insignificant factor in the country's cancer rate. There is little risk of PAH formation with grilled fruits and vegetables.
  • Always serve cooked food on a clean platter - not the one that held the raw food.


  • Marinades are a great way to tenderize meat plus add flavor at the same time.
  • For tenderizing, marinades must contain an acid, such as vinegar or citrus juice. To tenderize meats, plan on marinating for at least 4 hours. To add flavor, 30 minutes may be enough.
  • The texture of some meats, poultry, and fish can change if they're marinated too long. To marinate perfectly every time, use the following time guide:
  • Meats - several hours, or overnight
    Chicken - no more than 4 hours
    Fish - no more than 1 hour
  • Always marinate in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.
  • You can use the marinade as a basting sauce if you allow the food to cook at least 5 minutes after the last brushing. If you'd like to use the marinade as a sauce at the table, reserve some before you marinate raw meats. Warm up the reserved marinade before serving.
  • For quick clean-up and more even coating of meat, use a plastic zip-lock bag to hold marinade and meat. Place the bag in a nonmetal bowl.
  • Bottled salad dressings, such as Italian or honey dijon, make quick and easy marinades. Also, try some of the many low fat bottled marinades now available.

Gather the right ingredients

  • Start with a low fat base: try flavored vinegar, orange juice, low fat yogurt, wine or sherry. Use about 1/2 to 1 cup per pound of meat. For a taste of the Orient, add reduced-sodium teriyaki or soy sauce.
  • Add flavorful seasonings: chopped onions or shallots (1/4 - 1/2 cup); mustard, honey, apple juice or tomato paste or puree (1/4 cup); garlic (1-4 cloves); oregano, basil, parsley, dill, fennel seeds, bay leaves, red pepper, ginger, thyme, pepper, rosemary, lemon or orange rind (1/2 - 3 teaspoons, dried).

Create tasty combinations

  • Mix and match bases with seasonings to suit your tastes. Until you feel more comfortable with compatible combinations, experiment with only one base ingredient and two seasonings at a time.
  • The amounts listed above are only guidelines. Use more or less of any ingredient for stronger or milder flavors.
  • To get you started, here are some combinations that can't miss: yogurt, dill and garlic for chicken; red wine vinegar, lemon juice, rosemary, thyme, and onions for beef; orange juice, ginger, and garlic for fish; vinegar, dill, and Dijon mustard for salmon.
  • Seasonings from your favorite nutritious recipes can be a guide for other marinade combinations.


  • Sauces add wonderful flavor to grilled foods. Most are low fat.
  • A sauce containing sugar, honey, preserves, or tomato can cause sauce to burn on the meat's exterior before the meat inside can cook. To avoid burning the meat, wait until the last 5-15 minutes of grilling to brush on sweet sauces.
  • Do not brush raw meat with sauce and then serve any remaining sauce at the table. Either set aside sauce initially or boil the brush-on sauce for 2 minutes before serving.
  • Thin jams and jellies with orange or pineapple juice, then brush onto food during the last 4 minutes or cooking. Combine apricot preserves with spicy mustard for a zesty addition to chicken.
  • Try this simple mustard sauce on fish fillets: 1 tsp. minced garlic (or 1/8 - 1/4 tsp. garlic powder), 1 tsp. olive oil, 2 tsp. dijon mustard, 1/8 tsp. dill, and 4 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice. Baste fish before and during cooking.
  • Simple additions can boost the flavor of bottled barbecue sauces. Try adding herbs and spices such as allspice, cinnamon, chili powder, dry or prepared mustard, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, black pepper, horseradish, or minced garlic. Steak, soy, hot, Worcestershire, or tomato sauces can add extra zip. Honey, sugar, brown sugar and molasses provide a sweet taste. Pork and poultry take well to barbecue sauce sweetened with apple or orange juice.


  • To really boost flavor without fat, season meats with herb and spice combinations called "rubs" (you actually rub the seasonings directly onto the food before cooking). How much you "rub" depends on personal tastes.
  • Rubs are either wet or dry. Wet rubs often include condiments such as mustard, horseradish, or yogurt. Dry rubs use fresh or dried herbs and spices.
  • Crush spices, seeds, and dried herbs slightly before rubbing to release the flavors.
  • To allow the flavor to penetrate more deeply, cut slits in the meat.
  • For dry rubs, brush on a little oil before rubbing to help hold the spices on the meat.
  • For starters, try a blend of any or all of the following: 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. thyme, 1 tbsp. minced garlic, 1 tbsp. minced parsley, 1 tsp. sage, 1/2 tsp. rosemary. Other ideas for rub blends include dry mustard, paprika, thyme, basil, and onion powder.
  • A simple wet rub for pork combines 1/2 cup Dijon mustard with 2 cloves garlic (crushed). Spread over 2 (3/4 pound) pork tenderloins. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Grill 15-20 minutes on each side.
  • For fish, rub 1 Tbsp. nonfat mayonnaise all over surface of 1 pound fish steak. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. dried dill. Grill.

Fruits and vegetables

  • Select firm, ripe fruits and vegetables. Use whole or cut in large pieces. Place smaller pieces on skewers, a grill wok, or a piece of heavy aluminum foil. To prevent sticking to the grill, baste very lightly with vegetable spray or light margarine.
  • Best choices for fruits include apples, apricots, figs, firm melons, nectarines, papayas, peaches, or pears. Try bananas, oranges, tangerines and pineapple grilled in their skins. Sprinkle fruits with brown sugar, cinnamon, or ginger for additional flavor. The best time to grill fruit is when the coals are dying out. Grill until hot and slightly golden, about 4-10 minutes.
  • For grilled vegetables, try bell peppers, fresh chilies, cabbage, corn in or out of husk, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, squash, and tomatoes. Denser vegetables such as artichokes, carrots, and potatoes should be partially cooked before grilling.


  • All kinds of fish are showing up on grills today. Among the most popular varieties are tuna, scallops, swordfish, and shark. A simple rule of thumb to remember when cooking fish is to allow 10 minutes cooking time per inch at the fillet's thickest point. Increase this to 15 minutes per inch if the fish is wrapped in foil and 20 minutes per inch if the fish is frozen.

Quick fixes for fish

  • Instead of butter, drizzle fillets with a light and tangy mixture of lemon juice and herbs - such as chopped parsley, thyme, marjoram, basil, tarragon, or savory - and cook.
  • Wrap fish in foil with thinly-sliced carrots, celery, onion, and mushrooms. Season with dill and lemon juice. Pierce small holes in foil to let steam escape. Grill about 20 minutes.
  • For every pound of white fish, mix 6 tablespoons of nonfat mayonnaise with the juice of 1 small lemon. Add fresh (or dried) dill to taste. Spread over the fish and grill (or broil). For extra pizzazz, mix 1 teaspoon of your favorite mustard with the mayo.
  • For a taste of the southwest, add the juice on one lime to an eight-ounce bottle of Mexican-style salsa and baste fish before cooking. Extra sauce should be heated and added at the end, or passed around in a bowl at the dinner table.



Roasted Vegetable Sandwiches    

3 Tbsp. balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 tsp. olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 1 Tbsp. dried basil)
1 small eggplant, sliced into thin rounds
1 zucchini, sliced thinly
1 yellow summer squash, sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
1 small red onion, sliced and separated

Basil-Yogurt Spread
1/4 cup nonfat yogurt
2 Tbsp. reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. additional fresh basil (or 1 tsp. dried basil)
1 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Blend vinegar, oil, and basil. Add vegetables, tossing to coat. Place vegetables in roasting pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned - about 30 minutes. Cool vegetables and whisk together ingredients for spread (recipe can be prepared ahead and refrigerated at this point). To assemble sandwiches, spread basil-yogurt mixture on your favorite bread - pita halves, sliced French baguettes, or crusty rolls work well. Top with veggie mixture and serve.

Yield: 4 sandwiches, with 205 calories and 5 grams fat per sandwich.

Please note: The vegetable mixture also makes a great dish to grill on skewers or in a grill wok. Grill for 6-8 minutes. Prepare extra and serve first as a warm side dish and use the leftovers for sandwiches later.


  Honey-Basil Chicken  

1 cup raspberry vinegar
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. minced fresh basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
pinch of ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

In a shallow dish, mix all ingredients together, except chicken. Add the chicken, coating all sides. Allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Grill or broil the chicken for 5 minutes per side, or until cooked through.

While chicken is cooking, transfer marinade to 1-quart saucepan. Boil marinade until reduced by half. Serve as a sauce over the chicken.

Yield: 6 cups

Recipe from Prevention's Quick and Healthy Low-fat Cooking Featuring Cuisines from the Mediterranean, Edited by Jean Rogers, Rodale Press, Inc. 1994.


    Honey-Lime Marinade

1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice

Combine all ingredients. Use as a marinade for poultry.


Pineapple-Soy Marinade    

1/2 cup pineapple juice
2 tsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger (or 1/4-1/2 tsp. ground ginger)

Combine all ingredients. Use as a marinade or basting sauce for poultry or seafood.


  Barbecued Flank or Brisket  

Seasoning Blend
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3 lb. beef brisket or 1 lb. flank steak
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. minced garlic

1 cup catsup
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. liquid smoke (optional)

Trim all visible fat from meat. Combine seasoning blend ingredients and rub into meat. Wrap with foil. Bake at 350 degrees (3 1/2 hours for brisket or 45 minutes for flank steak). Cool for 10 minutes or refrigerate until cold. Slice into thin strips 1/4" diagonally (against grain of meat).

Combine sauce ingredients. Pour sauce over meat in 2 quart casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Servings: 6-8


    London Broil

2 Tbsp. dry red wine
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 medium flank steak, about 1 1/2 pounds

Combine first four ingredients and spread over steak. Place steak in a plastic bag. Close bag and set it in a bowl. Marinate steak one hour at room temperature or refrigerate overnight.

Broil or grill steak for 5 minutes each side or to desired doneness. Slice thinly against the grain to serve. Makes 6 servings.

Oriental Flank Steak
Replace red wine with sherry or white wine. Replace Worcestershire with soy sauce. Add 1 clove garlic and 1 tsp. ground ginger to the marinade.

Sweet and Sour Steak
Substitute honey for the wine. Replace Worcestershire with soy sauce.

Steak Espanol
Replace red wine with dry sherry or other white wine. Replace lemon juice with tomato juice.


Herbed Pecan Rub    

1/2 cups crushed pecans
3 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1/2 cup oregano leaves (2 Tbsp. dry)
1/2 cup thyme leaves (2 tbsp. dry)
1/2 tsp. lemon peel
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cooking oil

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients, except oil. Cover and blend until a paste forms. With blender running, gradually add oil Rub onto fish or chicken. Grill until meat is done.


  Apple Butter Barbecue Sauce  

1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup apple butter
1 Tbsp. Pickapeppa sauce or Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring just to boiling. Use with beef, pork, or chicken.

Brush sauce onto meat during the last 10 minutes of grilling. (Remember to set aside some sauce to serve at the table. Never serve the brush-on sauce used on raw meat unless you boil it first.)


    Honey-Peach Sauce

4 medium peaches, peeled (if desired) or nectarines, pitted
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper
1-2 tsp. snipped fresh thyme or 1/4-1/2 tsp. dried thyme

For sauce, cut up 3 of the peaches or nectarines. In a blender or food processor, combine cup-up fruit, lemon juice, honey, and pepper. Cover and blend until smooth. Transfer blended mixture to a small sauce pan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, finely chop remaining peach or nectarine; stir into sauce with thyme. Brush sauce onto meat during the last 15 minutes of grilling.

Make ahead directions: Cover, chill sauce for up to 24 hours. To serve, reheat the sauce in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally.