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Nutrition

The 6 Best Foods to Try on the Grill, According to a Dietitian

From cheese to leafy greens, it’s time to put something unexpected onto the flames tonight. Hello, grill master.

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Summers are fleeting, which means we should take advantage of every opportunity possible to spend time in the great outdoors – including cooking dinner. Why be cooped up in your kitchen when the warmer days and nights upon us are the perfect excuse to grill up a storm? Besides, is there anything that isn’t made better with some time on the grill grates over a hot flame? However, when most people want to get grilling, they stick to the usual suspects. A grilled meal need not be limited to burgers and sausages.

For the sake of better taste and improved nutrition, it’s time to think outside the bun and look at your grill as an ultra-versatile cooking medium that’s ready to prepare all sorts of food that can upgrade your summer meals. And once you get bitten by the alt-food grill bug, you’ll start eyeing everything in the supermarket and farmers market in terms of “Will it grill?” 

Try sending these items to the fire to rehash your thrill of the grill. 

1. Tofu

When you want to look beyond animal flesh for the grill, consider reaching for a package of tofu. Grilling a slab of tofu is a surefire way to make the plant-based protein taste, well, more meaty. And you’re going to want to eat it more often when you discover its health benefits. 

A handful of studies have linked consumption of soy foods like tofu with lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol numbers, and potentially lessening the risk of certain cancers like breast and ovarian. Plant compounds in soy called isoflavones, as well as perhaps something specific about soy protein itself, are believed to be behind many of tofu’s health benefits. 

Depending on the coagulant used during production, such as magnesium chloride (called nigari) or calcium sulfate, tofu supplies good amounts of these minerals, too. 

How to Grill Tofu

For grilling, you want to use extra-firm tofu so it’ll hold up on the grill grates. Then, follow these steps:

  • Slice a block of drained tofu along its width into 2 slabs. 
  • Line a cutting board with a couple of sheets of paper towel. Top with tofu pieces and a couple more sheets of towel. Press gently to extract excess liquid. 
  • Brush both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. You can also season the slabs with other flavorings including curry powder or za’atar, or marinade tofu like you would meat for several hours before grilling. 
  • Grill tofu over medium-high heat on greased grill grates until golden and grill marks appear, about 4 minutes per side. Give the tofu a 90-degree turn halfway through cooking each side to produce a nice cross-hatch pattern. 

2. Halloumi

Also referred to as “grilling cheese,” salty and fun-to-eat halloumi cheese is a traditional dairy in Cyprus and a popular protein in several Middle Eastern countries. The magic power of semi-hard halloumi is it has a high melting point and won’t ooze through the grill grates. Instead, the outside becomes flecked with crispy pieces while the inside turns velvety, all the while holding its shape. It makes for great grilled cheese – literally!  

Traditionally made with a combo of sheep and goat milk, this dairy import offers up bone-friendly calcium and muscle-building, hunger-taming protein (about 6 grams in each 1-oz serving, or nearly the same amount you get from grilled chicken breast). Just be aware that it does contain a fair amount of saturated fat and salt, so avoid the temptation to polish off an entire block. 

Typically, halloumi is the least expensive when purchased from Middle Eastern or Greek grocers. 

How to Grill Halloumi

With its delicious chewy bite, grilled halloumi is an excellent addition to summer salads, tacos, and pasta salads. You can even treat it like you would a burger and stuff it between a bun with your favorite toppings. 

Here’s how to prep halloumi for grilling:

  • Upend a block of halloumi and slice lengthwise into 2 big slabs.
  • Brush with oil and heat until browned with grill marks on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. 
  • Alternatively, cut halloumi into 1-inch chunks and skewer kebab-style. 

3. Avocado

For the best avo-toast or guac ever, fire up the grill! Grilling avocado makes its flesh extra creamy with a hint of smoky flavor.  

Besides, working more avocado and its payload of fiber, monounsaturated fat, vitamin K, and folate into your summer menu is a recipe for nutritional success. In a randomized trial, a team of researchers from Penn State found that participants who ate an avocado daily had better quality diets during the 6-month study period and experienced improvements in cholesterol. And despite being calorie-dense, incorporating an avocado per day in this investigation did not cause weight gain. 

How to Grill Avocado

Avocados are easy to grill and only require a little prep. Try this method: 

  • Slice your ripe avocado in half, remove the seed, and brush flesh with some oil and sprinkle on a bit of salt. 
  • Place flesh-side down on a hot grill for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until you get some nice grill marks. 

Once it’s off the grill, there are many ways to use your avocado. Scoop out flesh and mash into guacamole, cube and add to salads, or slice and stuff into sandwiches, burgers and tacos. Or, fill the grilled avocado cavity with salsa and crumbled feta or queso fresco.

4. Kale

If you want to step up your summer salad game, look no further than the grill. And, no, we don’t mean sticking with the usual suspects like corn or zucchini for veggie grilling. Hearty kale can also benefit from a touch of char. 

And anything that gets you excited to eat more greens is good news for your brain power. A recent study in the journal Neurology found people who ate the greatest quantities of leafy greens per day (an average of 1.3 servings daily) had brains that showed reduced signs of aging. Dark greens like kale are extremely rich in a variety of essential micronutrients and carotenoid antioxidants, like lutein, that can help sharpen your mind. 

How to Grill Kale

You want to use Tuscan (dinosaur) kale when you’re firing up the grill, as its sturdy flat leaves are less likely to burn than curly kale, whose edges are prone to singeing. Follow these steps to cook it:

  • Trim tough ends from a bunch of Tuscan kale, place in a bowl and toss with oil. 
  • In batches, place kale on grill and cook over medium heat, turning once, until slightly crispy and darkened in a few spots, about 2 minutes. 
  • Chop kale into 2-inch pieces and place in a large bowl along with other veggies and dressing. 

5. Mussels

You simply cannot consider yourself an adventurous outdoor cook until you’ve put these shelled wonders on the grill. You’ll likely be surprised just how much of a cinch mussels are to grill – they come without the risk of the heart-breaking sticking that happens with fish like salmon. And when briny meets smoky, magic happens. 

Not only are these shellfish inexpensive and packed with nutrition including protein, vitamin B12, and heart-healthy omega-3 fats, but they’re also considered one of the most sustainable seafood options you can buy.

How to Grill Mussels

Grilling mussels requires very little prep, and it’s a quick process. Here’s how to do it:

  • Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium-high. 
  • Dunk mussels in a large bowl of cold water, stir them around a bit, then drain. Discard any open ones that don’t close shut when tapped. 
  • Place mussels in a grill basket, close lid, and grill until the shells pop open (4 to 6 minutes). Do this in batches if grilling a couple of pounds of mussels or more. 
  • Remove mussels from grill and place in a large bowl. Discard any that did not open. 
  • Squeeze on a generous amount of lemon juice and scatter on a bunch of fresh herbs like parsley. 

6. Peaches

Naturally occurring sugars in fruit, when heated, take on a fetching golden color and develop a deep, caramel-like flavor. So, when you grill peaches, the toasty, sweet, caramelized exterior of this sun-kissed stone fruit contrasts with the soft flesh inside, creating a completely new flavor profile that’s simply irresistible. 

Plus, eating more of this quintessential summer fruit helps you load up on immune-boosting vitamin C and a cache of body-benefiting antioxidants. And since grilled peaches are extra sweet, you may find yourself craving sugary processed foods and drinks much less. 

How to Grill Peaches 

Get peaches caramelized with these simple steps:

  • Slice peaches in half, remove pits, and lightly coat flesh sides with oil. 
  • Grill over medium heat, turning once, until tender and a few dark marks appear, about 5 minutes total. 

Once you’ve pulled your peaches off the grill, you can turn them into a healthy snack or dessert. Just top with dollops of Greek yogurt and chopped pistachios. Or, chop grilled peaches and add them to salsas for meats and tacos. 

For more grilled foods, grilling tips, and recipes, keep reading:

Featured recipe: Grilled Watermelon & Halloumi Salad