Grill fests usually involve seeking out the fattiest, most celebratory cuts of meat we can find, then lathering on sugar-packed sauces and going for broke. But barbecue days don’t have to be cheat days.
“Grilling is actually inherently healthy because you’re taking away the fat and adding flavor with an open flame,” says Project Smoke author Steven Raichlen.
We asked Raichlen and Jamie Purviance, author of Weber’s New American Barbecue, to show us the easiest ways to grill what’s good for us.
First things first: The Expert’s Guide to Grill Heat
A simple Mississippi count is the best way to determine the temperature of your fire, says Raichlen. Hold your hand, palm-side down, four inches above the grill grate. If you can only hold your hand there for two to three Mississippis before you have to move it away, you’ve reached “high heat” (roughly 500°F). A medium-high fire is four to five Mississippis, and medium heat is six to eight.
Check out the best recipes and ways to grill your favorite foods:
TRY THIS: Lemon Chicken Marinade
“A chicken breast is so lean it dries out quickly,” explains Jamie Purviance. “And its uneven thickness makes it even harder to cook.” But when done right, it’s far tastier than when baked.
One thing to try: Add moisture before grilling with a marinade. “You solve the dryness problem by starting the process with a bit of extra moisture.” The key to freestyling your own marinade? Mixing a little acid (e.g., lemon juice), oil, and your favorite seasonings. Here’s a recipe:
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
11/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
Whisk together all ingredients. Place chicken breasts in a large, resealable plastic bag with marinade. Press the air out and seal tightly. Place in a bowl and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours, turning the bag occasionally.
Buy quality boneless, skinless breasts
Buy quality boneless, skinless breasts that come from an organic, free-range chicken. “It makes a huge difference,” Purvience says.
Use medium heat
Leave the grill lid down
Leave the grill lid down so the heat bounces off the lid and back onto the meat. “It speeds up the overall cooking, which helps maintain moisture and captures the smokiness. Also, the grate will be hotter—that will create more caramelization, which will add to the taste.”
Only turn the chicken breasts once
“A lot of guys tend to fiddle with grill meat constantly. That prevents good caramelization.” Instead, leave it on the grill for about four minutes before flipping it, then grill for an additional four minutes on the other side
Don’t guess when it’s done
Don’t guestimate when it’s done—use a meat thermometer, which should read 165°F. “Cutting into it to check is total amateur hour.” Also: “Make sure it’s opaque in the center, not pink or fleshy.” And don’t let your mind wander: “There’s a short window of time to take it off.”
Always let chicken rest for a few minutes
Always let chicken rest for a few minutes after you take it off the grill. This will relax the meat and make it juicier.