We love how food tastes when it’s prepared on a grill! It’s so much fun to create a meal outdoors with friends and family nearby. But while outdoor grilling is an American tradition, we also want to make smarter, healthier choices that are also good for the health of our planet. You don’t have to sacrifice taste or time to be healthy and sustainable. This year before you fire up your grill, follow this simple advice of The Sustainable Chef and culinary instructor Gerard Viverito.
Sourcing your ingredients
“Before each family BBQ, I plan my menu based on three factors: are the ingredients local, seasonal and/or sourced sustainably,” comments Chef G, who has spent his entire career educating other chefs and consumers about sustainable cuisine.
Local: “When possible, support your neighborhood farmers because they contribute to your neighborhood’s ecology. You want them to stay in business, so their farms don’t get sold and turned into housing projects or gas stations.”
Seasonal: “Embrace the fruits and vegetables that are in season in your part of the country. They’ll be at their flavor and nutritional peak. They also will travel less distance, so they’ll likely be cheaper and fresher.”
Sourced sustainably: “Use cooking oils, for example, that don’t contribute to environmental destruction. I’ve traveled throughout Malaysia, which is a world leader in certified sustainable palm oil production. It takes 10 times less land to produce palm oil than it does to produce canola or soy oil. I also like it because there’s no chemical processing. Palm oil is produced by squeezing the fruit, much like olive oil.”
He adds, “For a typical BBQ, I might choose grass-fed beef because it’s more sustainable than corn-fed. I’ll use rhubarb grown in my friend’s backyard. Right now, asparagus is growing everywhere. I’ll grill that, because it screams spring! And to prepare these fresh ingredients, I’ll use Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil and a sustainable organic zero-calorie stevia.”
Preparing your ingredients
“The right techniques will help protect your health and produce more flavorful meals,” says Chef G. These include:
Thaw proteins completely before grilling. “That’s the best way to ensure food cooks evenly. Use a meat thermometer in the thickest area to ensure doneness. Healthy internal temperatures are: poultry, 180 degrees; burgers, 160 degrees; pork,160 degrees; and steaks, 145 degrees for medium rare and 160 degrees for medium.”
Marinate with the right cooking oil. “A lot of people marinate their proteins in olive oil before grilling. Overheating olive oil can cause it to break down into dangerous carcinogens. Using the wrong oil is also why grilled vegetables sometimes taste so bad. The oil burns which makes the food taste rancid. It’s better to use an oil that will stand up to high heat, such as Malaysian sustainable palm oil. It’s got a nice buttery texture and it’s filled with healthy nutrients.”
Be cautious about sugars. “Sugar burns very quickly at high heat, so it’s important to add sugar-based sauces to your meat just in the last few minutes. But since most of us consume way too much sugar, a healthier option is natural, non-GMO stevia. Stevia has evolved, and will no longer give your drinks or marinades a bitter aftertaste.”
Cooking with charcoal or propane
“You don’t want to end up on the ER instead of the pool after a meal,” cautions Chef G.
Position the grill away from your house, and out from under eaves and tree branches. “This will help you to avoid inhaling smoke and help prevent accidental fires.”
Start with a clean grill. “Extra grease build up can contaminate your food with potential carcinogens.”
Keep meat and vegetables separate on the grill. “Keep meat drippings from falling on your vegetables, because they don’t cook long enough to destroy any bacteria present in the drippings.”
Plating your food
“Sustainability extends to how you serve your food. Choose reusable plates instead of paper or foam, for example.” His other tips include:
Stop plate waste. “One of the easiest ways to be more sustainable is to prevent food waste. Pay attention to what a healthy portion looks like. Don’t buy or prepare more food than you can eat because you don’t want the leftovers to be dumped into the trash. This creates greenhouse gases and it’s so preventable!”
Always transfer cooked food onto a clean platter. “Don’t use the same plate that you just used for the raw food.”
Keep food hot until it’s served. “Move it off the fire but keep it on the warm grill.”
Throw away burned or charred portions before eating. “The char and soot may contain dangerous chemicals or carcinogens.”
Season your grilled corn with a creamy spread made with heart-healthy palm oil. “It may just say “palm oil” on the label, but the overwhelming majority of palm oil used in our food supply is sourced sustainably from Malaysia.”
Keep food away from flies. “Use food covers to keep insects from sharing your meal and spreading germs.”
Step away from the food (and downwind) before spraying on insect repellent. “You don’t want to eat the chemicals. And, they’ll taste terrible!”
Treat leftovers with care
Pay attention to what’s left over. “If you almost always have leftover fruit salad, for example, prepare less of it the next time. That’s another way to avoid food waste.”
Don’t store spoiled food. “Discard food that’s been sitting out for two hours or more.”
Chef G. concludes, “Grilling is fun and can be delicious. With a few precautions, you can keep foodborne pathogens, fires and exposure to carcinogens from spoiling one of our best warm weather pastimes. And by following these simple tips, you can feel good about serving a delicious, sustainable meal to your family and friends.”
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