Grilled food offers a variety of health benefits not available through other methods of cooking. So whether or not you’re a big fan of a flame-kissed steak, the following health benefits will have you singing the praises of grilling:
One of the biggest health benefits grilling offers is less fat. Not only is less fat needed to grill meat and vegetables to perfection, but excess fat from within foods also drips away before ever hitting your plate. Grilled vegetables need only a toss in some healthy olive oil for added flavour and ease of cooking, and a light coating of cooking spray is all it takes to keep most meats from sticking.
Vegetables on the grill aren’t the only thing that increases in nutrition when cooked on the grill. Meat cooked on the grill retains more of its riboflavin and thiamine. Thiamine and riboflavin are B vitamins that help the body turn food into fuel for more energy. Meat or seafood grilled over a gas flame that is fully cooked but not charred is a perfect addition to a healthy diet.
More Nutritious Veggies
Because vegetables on the grill take less time to cook than when using more traditional methods, they retain more of their natural nutrition. Boiled or stewed veggies leave much of their flavour as well as their vitamin and mineral content behind in the cooking water. But roasted vegetables maintain texture and increase in colour and flavour without losing valuable nutrients.
In Vietnam, no one has hulking gas grills or state-of-the-art rotisseries or smokers but cooking outdoors over a real fire is common. When I was growing up, our family had a cook who prepared all of our meals over an open fire: meats were grilled on a grate over the fire, clay pots containing braises were set directly on the coals. The hearth was a multipurpose cooking space.
The enticing smell of grilled meats fills the streets of Vietnam, where charcoal braziers are set up in restaurants and on street corners, with fans (either electric or hand) keeping small fires burning hot while sending the delicious aromas into the air.
In the Western worlds, grills have gotten quite sophisticated, but our understanding of the basic principles of real-fire cooking has not. We understand the convenience of cooking on a gas grill but we believe that grilling is something that is best done over a bed of hardwood coals, which imbues the food with an irresistible smoky flavour. Isn’t that the whole point of grilling? Let’s look at the 4 main types of grills below:
This is the most popular type of outdoor barbecue grill and is much-loved for its convenience factor. Gas grills ignite with the push of a button, and they heat up and cook quickly. And thanks to temperature control knobs, they give the cook a lot of control over the heat setting. Most gas grills offer multiple burners, which means you can create various cooking zones—one for searing steaks, say, and another for gently warming up the sauce.
Pros: Simple to use, easy to clean, heats quickly and numerous size options
Cons: Can be more expensive, imparts a less smoky flavour, requires care for a propane tank
These deliver high heat—up to 700°F—and impart mouthwatering char-grilled flavour into burgers, chicken wings, ribs, and so on. Charcoal grills are typically the least expensive grill option, and can be used to grill both directly (you can sear right over the coals), indirectly (if you push the charcoals to one side, you’ll be able to cook foods slower), and can even be used to smoke foods. The cons? Charcoal grills require briquettes or lump charcoal for fuel, which can be tricky to ignite, especially if you’re new to grilling.
Pros: Amazing smoky flavour, easy to use and relatively portable
Cons: Less accurate in temperature control, takes longer to heat and harder to clean
Wood pellet grills are an increasingly popular style. They use hardwood pellets as their heat source and offer a combination of desirable features from both gas and charcoal style grills. For instance, pellet grills are electronically powered—they tout user-friendly knobs, variable temperature settings, and can be ignited by a power switch—and give your food an irreplaceable hardwood smoked flavour (think hickory, maple or mesquite).
Pros: Set-and-forget controls, fast to heat and great smoky flavour
Cons: Expensive, requires an electric outlet
These can’t be beaten for convenience or user-friendly features, but electric grills don’t get nearly as hot as other options, so you’ll forgo much of the delicious char-grill-flavour goodness when using one. Still, it heats up quickly, don’t require fuel, and are super easy to clean and cook with. Thanks to their smaller size and lack of charcoal/gas, electric grills are a great option for those in condos or apartments with limited outside space—and grill safety restrictions.
Pros: Compact, safe for small spaces and easy cleaning and usage
Cons: No smoky flavour
Building a fire for cooking is no different than building a campfire, and once you learn the basic technique, it’s pretty foolproof. We recommend using kindling and hardwood charcoal, eliminating the need for chemical-soaked briquettes. The key to cooking over hardwood charcoal is that you have to start the fire a good thirty minutes before you plan to cook on it. This allows the larger chunks of charcoal to break down into thick beds of coals – you want to grill over coals, not over fire.
Successful grilling is all about controlling the fire: a deep bed of coals allows you to create a mix of temperature zones, with hotter and cooler areas so you can customize the grilling depending on whether you’re cooking delicate fish or a thick beef steak.
To create a two-zone fire, banking two-thirds of the hot coals in a thick layer on one side of the grill to create a hot zone, and raking the balance of the coals to the opposite side to create a cooler zone. Then, you can use the grill grate just as you would a pan on the hob: adjust the heat from hot to cool just by moving the food around the grate.
Understanding the possibilities of real-fire cooking, which extend far beyond burger and sausages, will change the way you cook!