Stoke up your BBQ and think beyond the basic burgers and steak. From eggplant to cabbage, Brussels sprouts to peaches there are many mouth-watering, healthy foods worth considering for your next grilling adventure…and, of course some great tips and tricks on how-to BBQ healthy. Oh, and I’ve included two of my favourite BBQ recipes below!
Ready? Set? Stoke up your BBQ!
The ‘Best’ Unusual BBQ Foods
When one thinks of a BBQ, visions typically include large hunks of red meat smoking on the grill. Yet, have you ever considered a vegan BBQ? That irresistible, smoky flavour the BBQ gives food is delectable on many vegan foods, including tofu. Let’s take a minute to marinate in this idea of having a vegan BBQ. Could grilling tofu change it from being your family’s least favourite meal to being one of their favourites? There are so many non-meat foods that taste amazing on the grill. You can grill just about any vegetable or firm fruit (plums, watermelon, figs, pineapple, peaches). In fact, some foods just taste better grilled. Take eggplant for example. Eggplant is fairly bitter raw. But, eggplant has the most delicious sweet flavour and soft texture after it has been lightly brushed with olive oil and grilled. Some of the most delicious foods from the grill are vegetables. Beets, zucchini, corn, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers taste unbelievably delectable when they have been grilled. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box – slap on the grill a few wedges of cabbage or slices of carrots. Or, toss into your vegetable grill basket some Brussels sprouts or mushrooms that have been lightly coated with olive oil. You’ll be amazed at how amazing vegetables taste after a little time on the BBQ.
How to Grill Vegetables to Perfection
Cooking vegetables on the BBQ is easily accomplished by even the most novice of grillers, because vegetables cooked on the BBQ are delicious and safe to eat even if they are undercooked, unlike meats. To grill your vegetables to perfection, lightly toss or brush your vegetables with just a little bit of oil before putting them on the grill. Avoid too much oil as it can cause the grill to smoke. Dense vegetables such as potatoes or carrots, take longer to cook – char them on medium-to-high heat for the first few minutes, then move them to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking. Softer vegetables will cook within a few minutes so stay close and keep and eye on them.
How to Grill ‘Cleaner’
Grilling meat leaves it with a smoky, charred flavour many cannot resist. But, the high heat of a BBQ also creates chemical compounds that may contribute to cancer. When meat or fish are cooked at high temperatures on the grill, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form. HCAs form when amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and creatine (a compound present in muscle meats) react at high temperatures.
Before you retire your oversized grilling utensils, know that scientists are not certain as to whether or not eating grilled meats and fish cause cancer. However, it is a good idea to keep your exposure to HCAs low by avoiding the charred edges of your protein as it contains a lot of HCAs. Also, clean your grill prior to cooking to help remove any charred debris.
Another chemical to be aware of when grilling are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs form when juices from protein-filled foods drip onto the hot surface of the grill and create a smoke that deposits on the meat. Sugary marinades, such as BBQ sauce, char easily so they should only be added in the last minutes of grilling. Also, consider using marinades that contain vinegar or lemon as they change the acidity of the meat preventing PAHs from sticking to it.
One type of HCAs, called PhIP, is found in meat and fish cooked at high heat, such as on the grill. PhIP has been implicated in epidemiological and rodent studies for causing breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. However, recent studies have found pairing your grilled protein with certain fruits and vegetables may protect you from the harmful effects of PhIP. British researchers reported in 2012 that human subjects who ate lots of flavonoid-rich fruits and vegetables (berries, citrus, broccoli, kale, tea, apples and grapes) appeared to be less harmed by PhIP. Flavonoids appear to protect the body from the harmful oxidative stress caused by PhIP. In a 2013 research study, scientists found there were fewer cases of cancer in rodents exposed to PhIP when they were given a diet rich in tomato and broccoli. Eating a side of tomatoes and broccoli with your grilled protein may offer protection from these chemicals.
Light Your Grills
The BBQ is not just a fun way to cook outside; it also reduces the number of pots you have to clean after dinner! Grab your oversized flippers and tongs and light your grills. There are so many healthy foods in your kitchen waiting for a chance to be licked by the flames on your grill and transform into mouthwatering meals. The BBQ beckons you to try an adventure with your food, and discover delicious and healthy new meals.
Firing Up Culinary Creativity
Think you’ve grilled everything you can think of? You can elevate the taste profile of soups, pizzas, pastas and salads by including grilled ingredients. Try grilled corn to make smoky chowder. Try grilled tofu in your next taco recipe, with corn and a cabbage slaw. Or, what about trying a grilled gazpacho? So many culinary adventures await you on your BBQ – here are a few we love.
Grilled Chili-Lime and Cilantro Tofu
Makes 4 servings
1 package of firm tofu
¼ cup lime juice
1 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
¼ tsp cayenne powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the block of tofu on a plate and place another plate on top. Put a 3 to 5 lb weight on top of the plates, such as a container filled with water. Press the tofu for about a half an hour. Drain and discard liquid. Slice the tofu lengthwise into four thick slabs or into cubes and thread onto skewers. Place tofu onto a plate.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, garlic, cilantro, chili powder, cayenne powder, salt and pepper. Brush the tofu with the marinade. Cover the tofu and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
3. Preheat the grill to medium heat. Scrap off old debris. Lightly oil the grate. Grill the tofu until almost blackened in spots (about 10-15 minutes), brushing occasionally with the marinade.
Option: If creating tofu skewers, consider also treading on cherry tomatoes, chunks of red onion, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli or eggplant for a more complete meal.
Grilled Peach Salad
Makes 2 servings
1 peach, halved
2 tbsp of goats cheese
3 cups of arugula
½ cup olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
½ tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
In a bowl whisk together olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, mustard and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cut the peach in half, removing the pit. Lightly brush with olive oil. Place on preheated grill, face down over medium heat. Grill for about 3 minutes or until grill marks form. Flip peaches and grill for another 2 minutes, and remove from grill. Toss arugula in a bit of dressing. Top with crumbled goat cheese. Plate salad and add a decorative halved peach, or cut peaches into smaller pieces and toss into salad.
Canene-Adams K, et al. Dietary chemoprevention of PhIP induced carcinogenesis in male Fischer 344 rats with tomato and broccoli. PLoS One 2013 Nov 27;8(11):e79842.
Kurzawa-Zegota M et al. The protective effect of the flavonoids on food-mutagen-induced DNA damage in peripheral blood lymphocytes from colon cancer patients. Food Chem Toxicol 2012 Feb;50(2):124-9. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2011.08.020.