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Grill your way to perfect summer meals

POSTED: July 12, 2015 3:00 p.m.
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It’s possible to grill different items such as chicken and beef with vegetables, but be conscious of the different cooking times.

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Summer is full of warm, lazy days perfect for outdoor cookouts, grilled food, refreshing drinks and summer activities made to enjoy with friends and family.

The quintessential summer evening usually means a hearty grill session with friends and family to keep you company with the warm sun by your side.

Find your inner grill master

Most people don’t know this, but grilling is the healthiest way to prepare most foods. It can enhance the flavor of meats, poultry, fish and even vegetables. Delicious and healthy marinades also are a good option for an added flavor boost.

Before we get to the good stuff, it’s important to go over proper meat temperatures and general safety precautions.

Here are some general safety precautions to be aware of. Make sure your meat is cooked all the way through to avoid food-borne illnesses. Also, make sure you keep a clean, hygienic work space. A clean work space offers less room for silly mistakes. And always use a thermometer to gauge the temperature of your meat. Place it in the center or the thickest part of the cut for the most accurate reading.

Proper meat temperatures

Beef:

• Rare – 140 degrees

• Medium rare – 145 degrees

• Medium – 160 degrees

• Well-done – 170 degrees

• Ground – 160 degrees

Pork:

• Whole cuts – 145 degrees

• Ground – 160 degrees

Chicken:

• White meat – 160 degrees

• Dark meat – 180 degrees

• Ground – 165 degrees

Fish:

• All fish and seafood – 145 degrees

Now we get to the good stuff.

Marinades

Marinades are usually a mix of liquid ingredients — fruit or vegetable juices, wine, water or oil — combined with seasonings and/or herbs. The meat’s job is to soak in the marinade, locking in all of the delicious flavors.

Marinating helps keep the meat moist and reduces the potential for charring.

Store-bought marinades can be high in sodium, sugar and fat. So making your own marinade is generally a better idea. That way you know exactly what you are putting into your body.

Keep in mind that beef should marinate for five hours or overnight, while pork, fish and chicken only need 15 minutes to two hours to steep before the juicy flavors are locked inside.

When you’re picking out your veggies, make sure they’re firm and ripe before you start grilling away. Cut them into large pieces and place them onto skewers. Baste lightly with a vegetable-oil spray and season with herbs, soy sauce, wine or flavored vinegars. Some salt and pepper also does the trick. Grill them until they’re hot, tender and slightly golden brown. Bell peppers, onions, eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, summer squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes are all delicious, grill-friendly options.

Fruit also is amazing on the grill. Have you ever tried grilled peaches? Make sure your fruit is ripe and firm before you fire up the grill. Spray the fruit with vegetable oil, and for a savory hint of flavor, sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon or ginger. Like the vegetables, grill until they are slightly brown. Apples, apricots, figs, peaches and pears are all excellent choices.

Try a pomegranate juice, olive oil, oregano, sea salt and mustard marinade. Or try balsamic vinegar marinades with extra-virgin olive oil and shallots.
      
Sneak in more fruits and vegetables

Pureeing them and slipping them into sauces is a really simple way to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your summer grilling ritual.

Try veggie kebabs or grilled flatbreads loaded with tons of vegetables.

Also, try relish. A nectarine relish with grilled nectarines, pine nuts, onions, honey and balsamic is amazing.

Or you could puree some steamed cauliflower, zucchini and carrots and add it to barbecue sauce for a sweet, delicious, low-calorie and low-sodium option.

Summer salad suggestions

Try saying that five times fast.

The best part about summer salads is that they can be really fun and creative. Fruits and random flavors show off your creativity, so don’t be afraid to experiment on your own.

A good salad doesn’t have to have a plethora of ingredients to be good. Try a salad with watermelons, heirloom tomatoes and feta cheese.

Grilled corn, shrimp and asparagus also make for a delicious summer salad. So do mangoes, apples, mandarins and strawberries.

Refreshing summer beverages

Here are some healthy summer beverage options:

• Try watermelon chunks with lime juice and ice cubes for a healthy and refreshing summer slush.

• Seltzer water with fresh-squeezed lemon or lime and a drop of honey or agave.

• Or you can infuse water with cucumber, basil and watermelon. Let it sit out all day and then pour over ice.

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