Our Basic Grilling Guide & Great Grilling Sides

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Grilling season… the most wonderful time of year when you can bring the cooking outside and when pots and pans don’t greet you after a delicious dinner! As we embark on another season of warm weather cooking, it seems like the right time for a little “grill basics” refresher.

1. Don’t char the food

Or more specifically I should say don’t char the meat. When animal-based proteins are charred, chemicals are produced, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that’s been identified as a potential carcinogenic. While it should probably be avoided for vegetables too (simply because it means you’ve overcooked them), this compound isn’t produced from plant-based protein. Here are some tips to prevent charring.

2. Grill everything

While the grill is often thought of for steaks and patties, it shouldn’t be overlooked that pretty much anything can be put on it. Gently grill sliced bread to pair with fresh bruschetta or wow family and friends with this peach salsa. Grill your pizza, pile on the veggies to make a unique salad, and round a perfect meal with grilled pineapple, or another sweet fruit.

3. Lightly oil the grates

It’s easy to overlook this simple step but when you try to gently lift a fish filet or thinly sliced vegetable you’ll quickly remember. Simply soak a paper towel with vegetable oil and use tongs to spread the oil on the grates.

4. Redder the better

A heart-healthy diet doesn’t mean no meat it just means that you should choose the right meat. 

Seek steaks, filets, and ground meat that have little or no marbling (“redder the better”). Look for Guiding Stars in the meat department to ensure you’re choosing meat that is lowest in saturated fat.

5. Charcoal vs gas

When it comes to charcoal versus gas, most folks fall into one camp or the other. However, I suggest choosing the heat source that works best given the amount of time you have (it takes a while for charcoal to heat up), the food you’re grilling, and other variables. I appreciate the way Sam Sifton sums it up.

6. Temperature

Regardless of the grilling method, what matters most is that you cook your food, especially meats, to the correct temperature. Keep a meat thermometer handy to ensure you have an accurate measure and remember that most meats will continue to cook a bit when removed from the heat source.

With this refresher top of mind along with a few more tips, techniques and recipes you’ll be ready to fire up the grill and take the cooking outside. Look for more smart cooking posts in the coming weeks that help you create delicious and nutritious summer meals.

Great Grill Sides

A typical barbecue buffet includes several sides. These dishes can be tricky, often made from high-calorie ingredients. 

However, done right, sides can make your meal more nutritious and even load your plate with various veggies, a bonus at a time when many of us are trying to be a bit more plant-focused. 

From great recipes to tips for choosing the best options at the store, with Guiding Stars on our side, we can savor sides that are a lot less tricky, but still perfectly round out your summer meal. 

Make-ahead sides

The best sides are the ones that are made ahead of time so that you can enjoy the outdoors with family and friends. 

Pass on a traditional creamy macaroni salad and make fresh pesto sauce to pair with noodles (save some for grilled veggies too). 

Or if your crowd prefers slaw, try this colorful veggie slaw or maybe this Asian slaw that brings a twist to this classic side. 

Lastly, don’t forget that beans are veggies too. This light Three-Bean Salad is the perfect complement to your summer plate.

Level Up Your Sides 

Level up your summer sides with slight variations in the ingredients you choose for even the simplest recipe. That pasta side? Make it with whole wheat or bean-based noodles, rather than traditional white flour, for a vegetable-based protein boost. 

Include more fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals on your plate by adding veggies to different salads like was done with this lighter, tasty twist on traditional potato salad

Lastly, don’t forget that you can level up the nutrition and heart-healthy fat (while adding texture and crunch) by adding diced avocado, nuts, or seeds to pretty much any recipe. 

The Best Premade Side

Of course, sometimes we don’t want to (or don’t have time to) make our own sides. Lucky for us there are some in-store options that can get the job done. Visit the prepared foods section of your market and seek Guiding Stars rated bean and veggie salads, hummus, or guacamole. 

A salad kit can save you time and often comes with dressing you may not typically use or have on hand. 

Lastly, it may surprise you, but some potato chips earn Guiding Stars. Pick them up in a pinch for a speedy side or visit the frozen section for Guiding Stars-rated frozen French fries.

For more, check out this perfect post from my colleague Kit Broihier which’s all about summer sides