‘I’m an RD, and These Are the 4 Anti-Inflammatory, Protein-Rich Foods I’ll Be Grilling This Summer’

Photo: Stocksy/Gabriel (Gabi) Bucataru
Grilling season is finally upon us, so why not shake things up a bit this summer? While there's certainly nothing wrong with your run-of-the-mill burgers, hot dogs, steaks, chops, and so on, know that there are so many alternative sources of protein that taste just as delicious but also bring major anti-inflammatory benefits to the table. These are the four types of protein—from fish to plant-based to proteins in between—that I'll be grilling all summer long. (This is all about proteins, but don’t forget to throw some seasonal veggies on the grill for even more antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits.)

4 delicious anti-inflammatory grilling ideas

1. Omega-3 rich fish

Whole fish and filets of fish can be great proteins for the grill. Because of the quick cooking nature of most seafood, this means that fish does not need to spend a long amount of time on the grill, reducing the likelihood of developing carcinogens. Meaty fatty fish filets or steaks like tuna, mahi mahi, halibut, black cod, monkfish, and salmon are more forgiving on the grill because of their natural fat content and firm texture. That makes them less likely to stick on the grill, to fall apart, and to become overcooked and dry. Plus, the fattier the fish, the higher the omega-3 content (which we love for its heart healthy and anti inflammatory benefits). A seafood guide like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch can help ensure you are purchasing safer, sustainable seafood.

Lastly, whole fish is also a superstar on the grill. Red snapper, branzino, sea bass, and trout are all great options when looking for whole fish. Stuff a whole fish with herbs and citrus and drizzle with olive oil, grill it up along with some fresh vegetables, and dinner is well on its way. Tip: if grilling a whole fish, a grill basket like this one can really come in handy.

2. Shellfish

Shellfish often falls under the radar when it comes to grilling, but it is honestly one of my favorite foods to grill—especially in the summer, when it feels more seasonal. Where I live in Maine, lobster tails and oysters on the grill seem somewhat commonplace, but I recognize this is not the case for everyone! The great thing is that more universally accessible shellfish, like shrimp, is just as tasty.

Keep in mind that shellfish is lean, so it does not have a lot of the fat that red meat does; that makes it easy to overcook. Cooking it shell-on will help retain a lot of the flavor and juices. Marinating it ahead of time also helps lock in flavor. I like simply cooked whole shellfish, skewered onto a kebab with some veggies, or ground into a patty (such as these outstanding frozen shrimp burgers from Del Pacifico Seafoods). Squid and octopus are also perfect for grilling due to their meaty textures. Shellfish is not only super nutritious, it also grills up in just a few minutes, so it can make a great quick weeknight meal.

Going to a local fish market is ideal for fresh product, but if you don’t have access to one close by or you want to stock your freezer, look at options from Secret Island Salmon, Sizzlefish, Alaskan Salmon Company, and Island Creek Oysters—each of these purveyors offers great grilling options for home delivery.

3. Plant-based burgers

Veggie burgers have gotten a serious upgrade since the Boca Burger days. My favorite to use on the grill now is AKUA’s Kelp Burger. The best part is that plant-based proteins form significantly fewer carcinogens than animal protein and they are packed with nutrition: fiber, loads of vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants. Plus, they are better for the planet. To prevent sticking, rub with a little bit of neutral oil and cook them straight out of the package while still frozen, 2-3 minutes per side on high heat. As far as other plant-based burgers, I opt for those that are a blend of beans and grains; for an extra protein boost, look for varieties made with pea protein.

4. Tofu and tempeh

Tofu and tempeh can both be used on the grill, but I tend to prefer tempeh because of its overall nutritional content, how it holds its shape during grilling, and its flavor. Tofu is made from coagulated soy milk that has been pressed and available in silken, soft, firm, and extra firm textures. Tempeh, on the other hand, is made from fermented soy beans that are compacted into a firm dense cake and frequently mixed with whole grains, other beans, and flavorings. Because both are made from soy, they are both high in protein and heart-healthy. Still, tempeh delivers a more concentrated package of nutrients; it has double the protein, more than three times the fiber, and more iron and potassium. (Tofu contains slightly more calcium, though.)

When grilling tempeh, marinate for a couple of hours or overnight in a liquid marinade of your choice. When ready to grill, place in a single layer and grill on both sides for about 4-5 minutes per side, brushing with leftover marinade as it cooks. And if tofu is your jam, just make sure you choose the extra firm texture and marinate ahead of time so that it does not fall apart on the grill. Your bonus: You'll enjoy even more flavor.

Rainy day? No problem. You can bring the outdoor party indoors by learning how to grill in an air fryer.

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