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Fire Up the Grill

I took a very unscientific poll of the kids in my world to find out what foods they love on the grill. And guess what? Everyone liked something different. Allie, 13, prefers chicken. Charlotte, who’s 9, loves steak. Bryce, age 7, is a hamburger guy, and Ryan is 6 and loves hot dogs. So my recommendation for your summertime barbecue is a mixed grill! Make everyone happy.

I’ll tell you how I do it. For my chicken, I prefer thighs. Bone in. First, it holds them together. Second, it adds umami, that fifth taste, along with sweet, salty, bitter and sour. The bone flavors the meat and is easily discarded. And speaking of discarded, I use a paper towel to remove the chicken skin before I marinate it in the Cornell Barbecue Sauce and grill it. That’s because I don’t want to eat the skin, nor do I want the kids to have the extra fat. And removing the skin helps keep down the grill flare-ups too.

Steaks rock on the grill. Nothing says summer like a steak. Just keep in mind, a serving of steak is only three ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. There are many cuts of beef that are considered lean; one of my faves is sirloin. With just two grams of saturated fat per serving, it’s considered “extra lean.” And there’s recent news about eating lean meats like beef, pork and skinless chicken that have stearic acid. Eating lean beef actually improves cholesterol levels, according to a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Bottom line: That could mean a reduction in heart disease.

Don’t forget you don’t need to cook your steak to 160 degrees. Using your meat thermometer, pull your steak at 135 degrees and let it rest. The outside will be a nice seared brown with a warm pink center.

Time to make the burgers. I put them on the grill third so they’ll time out with the longer-cooking meats. The key to a great burger is to pat your patty as little as possible. Shape it and leave it alone. I use a decent amount of pepper for flavor and a sprinkle of salt. Not too much.

Then, put your patties on when the chicken is about halfway done. And then—leave them alone. Do not press the burger down with the spatula. That squeezes out all the wonderful juice and makes the burger dry. Also, don’t flip it for at least two or three minutes depending on the heat of your grill. Your goal is to flip it once during cooking. If you have a meat thermometer, use it. Pull the burgers when the meat reaches 155 degrees and let it rest. It will increase off the grill to the safe zone of 160 degrees.

And that leads me to the safe zone. What exactly is it, and why should we care? Well, it’s all about E. coli. Beef that is ground and sold in bulk or comes prepackaged likely originated at a large slaughterhouse and was made from dozens of different animals. To make sure you and your family are truly safe, buy from a grocer or butcher who grinds the beef from one piece of steak or a roast. Cooking the meat to 155 and allowing it to rise to 160 degrees will kill any bacteria remaining in the meat.

I, too, prefer a medium burger, but will only have it when I am sure of where the meat came from. You only have to read the 2009 New York Times article entitled “The Burger That Shattered Her Life” by Michael Moss to know why.
Anyway, I digress. I love burgers, and serve them at all our cookouts. I just buy a roast and either grind it at home, or, if I’m in a rush, I ask the butcher to grind it for me.

Hot dogs, our other grill favorite, is a simple process for us. I prefer Applegate uncured turkey dogs (with 40 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 260 milligrams of sodium). I’d like to take a moment to explain what “uncured” means. Cured hot dogs have an extended shelf life. But that’s done by adding nitrates. And some experts believe nitrates can cause cancer. While I don’t know if that’s accurate, I do know it’s easy enough to buy uncured hot dogs and not have to worry about it. So, it’s a simple process. Whether beef, poultry, pork or a mix, the hot dogs on our grill are always uncured and typically on sale!

Click to view recipe.

Chris Xaver, Ph.D., is a local TV and radio personality with three children and five grandchildren. Her healthy lifestyle show, The Sweet Life, is airing on public television stations nationwide.

Photo above: © Paladuta Cornelia | Dreamstime.com

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