The Healthiest Meats to Place on the Grill and How to Safely Prepare Them

Here are 5 tips for grilling the healthiest meats for your next gathering.

healthiest meats

When grilling your healthiest meats, be sure to clean the grill thoroughly to prevent burning, sticking or bitter flavors the next time you use it.

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You’re a meat-loving American male. At your family cookouts, you’re the guy proudly flipping the burgers and steaks on the grill. You are the baron of beef. You are the grill master. As such, you need to be smart and select the healthiest meats to place on the grill. Choose the wrong cut of beef or eat too much of it, and you can add unwanted calories and fat to your waistline. Char your steak or burger, and you might generate chemicals that can increase your risk of certain cancers.

Here are some tips to help you become a maestro of meats—in the healthiest way possible.

➊ Go Lean/Read the Labels

Choosing the healthiest meats starts at your supermarket. For burgers, opt for ground beef labeled as “lean” or “extra lean,” according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations (see chart). For steaks, look for the USDA’s quality grade labeling. Roasts and steaks labeled as “prime” typically have greater marbling (the amount of fat spread throughout the lean meat) than leaner “choice” or “select” varieties. Trim off as much fat as you can.

“Eye of round, sirloin tip, top round, and top sirloin are all lean options,” Kirkpatrick advises. “If you’re going for steak, flank steak is usually the leanest. It’s more so with the steaks that you look for certain leaner cuts. With ground beef, look for the ‘lean’ or ‘extra lean’ labels, based on the overall fat content.”

➋ Consider the Source

When you bite into that burger, you’re probably not thinking about whether the cow from which it originated grazed only on grass in a pasture or was fattened on a diet of grain or corn. However, there are some differences between grass-fed beef and other varieties. For example, although it’s usually a little pricier, grass-fed beef typically is higher in healthful omega-3 fatty acids and lower in overall fat content.

➌ ‘Health Up’ Your Burger

You might sacrifice some flavor and juiciness by forgoing the fat and opting for leaner cuts of meat. To make up for it, add some pepper, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, or olive oil and garlic.

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Increase the nutritional value and flavor of your burger by adding beans, sautéed onions, or mushrooms. Mix oats into your burger patty to add some healthful fiber and also bulk up the burger so you’re eating a little less red meat.

➍ Don’t Char Your Meat

Cooking beef and other meats at high temperatures, such as grilling over an open flame or pan frying, can produce chemicals known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals have been shown to cause DNA changes that might increase the risk of cancer. The risk of PAH formation increases when fat from the meat drips into the fire and sparks more flames.

To reduce your intake of these chemicals, avoid exposing the meat to large open flames, frequently turn the meat, and remove any charred portions. Avoid prolonged cooking times, and consider partially cooking the meat in the microwave before placing it on the grill. Also, adding marinades rich in spices and herbs such as rosemary to the meat may help reduce HCA formation.

➎ Cut Back on the Beef and Go For the Healthiest Meats Available

Consuming too much red meat is bad for your health, so the obvious way to reduce your risks is to limit how much (and how often) you eat it. Limit your red meat portions to about 3.5 ounces, roughly the size of the palm of your hand. Eating a grilled burger once a month or so is probably fine, but consuming more than that can be unhealthy.

Don’t make red meat the focal point of your plate. Rather, think of it as a side dish to more healthful non-starchy vegetables and whole grains. And, choose healthier meat alternatives, such as fish, seafood, bison, venison or skinless poultry.

Meat by the Numbers

Here’s a look at how some of your favorite grilling meats compare in terms of calories, saturated fat, and sodium per 5-ounce serving:

MEAT (5 OUNCES) CALORIES SAT. FAT SODIUM
Chicken breast 224 1 g 690 mg
Steak 253 4 g 586 mg
Hamburger 349 9 g 581 mg
Italian sausage 596 17 g 2091 mg
Hot dog 617 21 g 1893 mg
Bratwurst 633 19 g 1607 mg
Ribs (pork) 709 20 g 747 mg
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