Ready to fire up the grill this summer? We can't wait either. There's nothing better than spending a day out with friends and family, enjoying some delicious grilled foods.
You can grill just about anything from proteins to veggies and desserts to sides. But, should you?
Is Grilling Healthy?
It's difficult to answer this question with a straight yes, or no. There are some concerns over how good grilling is for your health, but this research is mixed.
For example, there are specific concerns around heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These increase when you cook specific animal proteins at higher temperatures for a longer time.
While some research suggests they may be carcinogenic in animals, there's not enough research to support any direct links to increased cancer risk in humans.
Then there are advanced glycation end products (AGEs), typically naturally occurring but also formed during high-heat cooking methods like grilling. They may increase your risk of or speed up the progression of conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
But none of this means grilling is inherently bad, simply that certain grilling methods may be worse than others.
Practicing Safe Grilling Methods
The research on grilling is still ongoing, but hearing that anything carries a health risk can make you skeptical. But don't avoid grilling altogether. Instead, just be more careful when you have your next summer cookout.
Here are a few tips to help:
- Consider marinating your food. Some research, including this report from the journal Food Control, suggests that marinating meat in an acidic marinade can cut back on AGEs during cooking.
- Change your cooking technique. Since the research mentioned above talks about how HCAs and PAHs increase with increasing temperature, consider cooking low and slow instead. Or, if you have to cook at high heat, cook something that you can cook up in just a few minutes.
- Consider grilling as a last step in the cooking process if you're cooking something that requires a more prolonged, high-heat cook. For example, cook the dish in the oven, then pop it on the grill—or vice versa, depending on the dish.
- Keep your grill clean. It may sound like a silly tip, but all the charred leftovers from previous grilling sessions can have toxin buildups that are bad for your health.
- Focus less on processed foods and more on whole, nutritious foods. Add more vegetables, fruits, fish, and foods that contain antioxidants and phytochemicals.
And once you've done all of this, fire up the grill and get cooking with these eight delicious recipes recommended by our Nutrition Team.
1) Paleo Chicken Yakitori Skewers from I Love Umami
Recommended by: Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP
- Paleo Teriyaki Sauce (follow this great recipe to make your own)
- 1.5 pounds chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more during cooking
- ⅛ teaspoon white or black pepper, optional, plus more during cooking
- 2 bundles scallions (white and pale green parts only)
- Avocado oil
Why Victoria Loves It
“The simple and fresh ingredients make this an easy summer grilling recipe. I love the combination of the chicken, teriyaki sauce, fresh ginger, and scallions.
Pro tip: if you’re too busy to make your own teriyaki sauce, try a pre-made sauce like this one from Primal Kitchen.”
2) Grill Basket Fajitas from The Food Network Kitchen
Recommended by: Amanda Donahue MS, RD, CD
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Kosher salt
- 1 (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) skirt steak, sliced into 1-inch strips
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 bell peppers or poblano peppers, sliced into 1-inch strips
- 1 yellow onion, sliced into rounds
- 2 chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each), sliced into 1-inch strips
- 10 to 12 (8 inches) flour tortillas
Why Amanda Loves It
“Being from Texas, Tex-Mex is a huge part of Texas food culture, so Mexican cuisine is a go-to favorite in our house.
But it can be dense with carbs, so this can be an excellent lower-carb option if needed without the tortillas (for a more complex carb option, though, I love these whole grain ones).
The cool part about this recipe is that you can customize your veggie options. I like to add some grilled, chopped asparagus to my bell pepper and onion mix. Don’t forget the Picante sauce to top off your meal.”
3) Grilled Sweet Potatoes from Simply Recipes
Recommended by: Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes
- 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
For the dressing
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (including tender stems)
- 1 teaspoon lime zest or lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch salt
Why Marie Loves It
"I love this side item because:
1) It takes the hassle out of having another cooking dish (crockpot/casserole dish for the oven, etc.), making it a grill-only day. And
2) The combo of flavors is a great mix-up from usual, plain sweet potato recipes."
4) Grilled Greek Chicken Kabobs from Tzatziki Sauce
Recommended by: Randi Yow, RDN, LDN
For the marinade and skewers:
- 1/3 cup olive oil or avocado oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
For the skewers:
- 1 ½ pounds chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 medium zucchini, sliced ½ inch thick rounds
- 1 large sweet bell pepper, cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch squares
- 1 medium red onion, cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch squares
- 6–8 skewers
For the tzatziki sauce:
- ½ cup grated English cucumber squeezed to remove water
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Why Randi Loves It
"These kabobs are a staple in our household, especially during the summer months, because they are light, healthy, and delicious.
Kabobs are a great and easy way to meal prep, so you don’t have to worry about what you're going to cook during a busy week. Add a Greek salad and hummus, and you have the perfect Mediterranean meal."
5) Grilled Shrimp from Healthy Recipes
Recommended by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN
- 1 ½ lb. large raw shrimp peeled and deveined
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Why Heather Loves It
"Shrimp is one of my top go-to protein sources, and it works great on the grill.
This recipe is simple, fast, and versatile. Adjust the spiciness as you’d like, and you can even add some parmesan if you’re in the mood."
6) Grilled Salmon from Well Plated
Recommended by: Patrick Scheel, RDN, LDN
- 1 1/2 pound side of salmon skin off or on
- 1 small bunch of fresh dill divided
- 1 medium lemon plus additional for serving
- 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or canola oil or olive oil
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Why Patrick Loves It
"This salmon dish is simple and packs a high amount of both protein and healthy fat.
Pro tip: season with only blackening and sprinkle some dark brown sugar. If you can use wild-caught salmon, this is perfection."
7) Grilled Peaches from Love & Lemons
Recommended by: Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD
- 4 ripe peaches, halved and pitted
- Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
- ½ cup walnuts, toasted and crushed
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- Vanilla ice cream
Why Carlee Loves It
“Grilled peaches are the perfect warm-weather dessert—flavorful and juicy with that signature grilled flavor.
I top mine with fresh whipped cream or ricotta and a sprinkle of cinnamon.”
8) Grilled Guacamole from Taste of Home
Recommended by: Liz McKinney MS, CNS, LDN, Nutrition Manager
- 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
- 1 jalapeno pepper, halved and seeded
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 3 medium ripe avocados, halved and pitted
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- Tortilla chips
Why Liz Loves It
“I love this twist on a summer favorite. Grilling the veggies and avocado gives this guac a smoky flavor. I love to pair this with Siete chips or cut-up veggies.
I prefer to grill with avocado oil since it has a high smoke point and can take the heat of the grill without breaking down and oxidizing.”
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Carlee's training at Western Illinois University and an internship at the Memphis VA Hospital lead her to a career in outpatient counseling and bariatric nutrition therapy. In these positions, Carlee realized many of the disease states (upwards of 80%!) her patients experienced were actually preventable. She knew she had to dig deeper into preventative health, which led her to NutriSense and CGMs.