A Healthy Grilling Guide for This Summer

Submitted by Debra Dobies, MA, RD, LDN

Grill corn and vegetables for a plant-based spin on the backyard barbecue.May is when we all begin to spend more time outdoors to enjoy the splendid warmer weather and all the activities that come with it.

It’s smart to realize that with that weather comes certain temptations that are different for everyone, but a few healthy tips can ensure your wellness goals are met. Always remember to drink extra water with warmer weather and consult your primary care physician about alcohol intake.

Another summertime favorite is grilling. This cooking method puts us in direct contact – in some cases – with raw meat, poultry, fish, and plant foods. Cross contamination of raw and cooked foods may lead to food-borne illnesses. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR), “… there isn’t enough evidence to show that grilled meat specifically increases risk for cancers. But we do know that cooking meat at a high temperature – like grilling – creates cancer-causing substances, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs).”

These carcinogens can cause changes in the DNA that may lead to cancer.

Risk of these carcinogens forming is higher from red and processed meats – like hamburgers and hot dogs. Smoke or charring also contributes to the formation of PAHs.

Evidence is clear, however, that diets high in red and processed meats, contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Based on the evidence, AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week and staying away from hot dogs or other processed meats.

Tips to keep your family and friends healthy and safe when grilling:

  1. Always insure your grill grates, tongs, marinate brush, and cooking utensils are scrubbed clean with hot soapy water.
  2. Wash your hands before, during, and after grilling. If you are handling raw meats have hand sanitizer or wet wipes near your grill.
  3. Use separate plates, platters, and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Make sure to wash and sanitize all cutting boards, plates, and utensils that come in contact with raw foods. It is best to have separate cutting boards for produce and meats.
  4. Marinating meat, poultry, or fish before grilling decreases the formation of HCAs. If the marinade used on raw meat, poultry, or fish is going to be reused on the cooked protein bring it to a boil to destroy harmful bacteria.
  5. When grilling large portions of protein, partially cook them in the microwave, oven, or stove and then immediately transfer them to your heated grill. This will reduce exposure to the flames to reduce carcinogen formation and helps keep your meat safe from food pathogens that can cause illness.
  6. Trimming the fat off your meat and the skin off poultry reduces grill flare-ups and charring. The more fat left on the meat or poultry causes it to drip on the flames creating smoke and charring which increases the development of PAHs. If char does develop, trim it off, and do not eat it.
  7. To speed up cooking time and reduce the development of HCAs and PCAs, cube or slice your meat or poultry. Choose quick cooking proteins like fish, shrimp or tofu.
  8. The faster foods are cooked decreases charring and the formation of carcinogens. Use a thermometer and cook foods to the following temperatures:                                            
  9. - Beef, veal, and pork to at least 145⁰ F                  - Chicken and ground poultry to 165⁰F                - Hamburgers and all ground meat to 160⁰F          - Fish to 145⁰F            
  10. Research has shown that if you flip or turn your meat more often it minimizes the formation of HCAs. Flip your food every 30 to 60 seconds.
  11. To prevent food-borne illness, refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers. Discard all food that has been sitting out for more than two hours. If the room or outdoor temperature is above 90⁰F, toss all food after one hour.

Healthier options to grill would include vegetables, fruit, tofu, and whole grain breads. These foods do not have the ratio of creatine, protein, and sugars that cause the formation of HCAs. Try one of the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine™ recipes such as the Grilled Portabello Mushroom Burgers (recipe below).


Beebe Dietitians available

Beebe Healthcare has Registered Dietitians (RD) available for consultation to provide patient education and medical nutrition therapy. An RD is available through Diabetes Management and Medical Nutrition Therapy with referral from a primary care provider, other licensed provider, or specialist. The telephone number is (302) 645-3121. Patients at Tunnell Cancer Center have access to a Registered Dietitian, as well. Students at Cape Henlopen High School, Indian River High School and Sussex Central High School can also see a Beebe Healthcare Registered Dietitian through their Wellness Centers. 

Always consult with your physician or healthcare provider before making any dietary/nutrition changes or commencing or changing your physical activity.  

Debra Dobies, MA, RD, LDN, is Beebe Healthcare's Ornish Reversal Program Registered Dietitian and Medical Nutrition Therapist. Beebe Healthcare's Ornish Reversal Program is now open in the Beebe Medical Arts Building at the Rehoboth Beach Health Campus. For more information, go to www.beebehealthcare.org/ornish


Grilled Portabello Mushroom Burgers (serves 4)


For Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Bragg Liquid Aminos
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic finely chopped or minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For Portobello Burger:

  • 4 medium portabello mushrooms stems removed
    4 oz each, 4 inches in diameter
  • 4 1/2-inch slices red onion
  • 2 red peppers quartered, stems, ribs, and seeds removed
  • 4 tablespoons Basil Mayonnaise
    see Description, above, for link
  • 4 whole-wheat or gluten-free buns sliced
  • 4 lettuce leaves



  1. Prepare the grill at medium high heat or preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. To make the marinade, in a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, liquid aminos, water, rosemary, garlic, and pepper.
  3. Wipe the mushroom caps with a damp paper towel. Place mushrooms, red onion slices, and bell peppers on prepared baking sheet. Brush the marinade on both sides of the vegetables.
  4. If using the grill, grill the mushrooms, onions and peppers, until tender and lightly browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn and baste with marinade after 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the grill and baste again with remaining marinade. (Alternatively, bake the vegetables in the oven for 10 minutes, baste, and continuing baking for another 10 minutes, until tender and golden brown. Remove from the oven and baste again with remaining marinade.)
  5. Slice red peppers into strips. Separate onion slices into rings.
  6. Toast buns until golden brown. To assemble, place the bottom half of each bun on a plate. Spread 1 tablespoon of basil mayonnaise over the bun.  Top with a mushroom, red pepper slices, onion rings, and a lettuce leaf. Cover with the top of the bun. Serve immediately.

Learn more about Ornish at Beebe.

Cooking with Chef Miguel (videos and recipes).


Deb Dobies, Ornish Dietitian

Debra Dobies, MA, RD, LDN, is Beebe Healthcare's Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Registered Dietitian and Medical Nutrition Therapist. Beebe Healthcare's Ornish program is located in the Medical Arts Building at Beebe's Rehoboth Health Campus. For more information, go to www.beebehealthcare.org/ornish.