Grilling is a great way to enjoy a family meal! 

A grilled meal can be healthy and low cost, plus packed with flavor. 

This tip gives grilling ideas for how to:

There are many benefits to grilling!

Grilling can be a:

  • Low-fat cooking option.
  • Low-cost way to add a variety of foods and colors to your plate.
  • Way to boost flavor without adding calories.
  • Great way to keep cooking heat outside.
  • Way to teach children a new way to cook.
  • Special way to celebrate a family event any time of the year.

Get Started

Ask these six meal planning questions before you grill:

Do you want leftovers?  Grilled food makes great
     leftovers for the next day.  Get some good ideas on
     page 7.

Will you add any non-grilled side dishes to the
  If so, think about how long they take to
     prepare so you can do this ahead of time.  Many
     grilled foods cook fast so you will want to make sure
     your sides are ready to go.  Find ideas for "make ahead"
     side dishes on page 3.

Will you be using food from the freezer to grill?  If
     so, plan to fully thaw it before grilling to allow for even
     cooking throughout.  Safely thaw in the refrigerator, not
     on the counter.

Will you marinate any of the foods?  If so, plan for
     how long.  A simple marinade is low-fat Italian dressing. 
     For safety make sure to marinate foods in the

How long does each food you are making take to cook?  This will help you plan the order for
     placing foods on the grill.  Learn about grilling times for fruits and veggies on pages 4 and 5 of this

How will you prep foods that need to be cut before grilling?  Find out more about cutting
     veggies and fruits for the grill on pages 4 and 5 of this tip.

  • The thinner a food item is cut the faster it will cook.  1/2 inch is often recommended for thickness. 
  • Cutting pieces of food to the same size helps assure all bites of that food item will be cooked to your liking.  For example, if all pieces of green pepper on a skewer are cut the same size there is a better chance they will all be done cooking at the same time.
  • Cutting pieces of food so the most possible area touches the grill helps assure good flavor and doneness throughout the whole piece.  For example, cutting an onion in horizontal slices assures more of it will touch the grill than simply cutting an onion in half.

Practice Food Safety When Grilling

Follow these safety tips for backyard and patio grilling.

At the store: Select meats, poultry and fish last when shopping and go straight to the checkout after putting them in your cart.  Make sure raw meats, poultry and fish are in a separate area of the cart and/or in plastic bags.

On your way home: Make sure raw meats, poultry and fish are in a separate shopping bag from other grocery items to prevent juices from spilling onto other foods.  Plan to head straight home after shopping.  If you have a long way to drive you may want to bring a cooler.

Storing foods at home: Put meats, poultry and fish into the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours of when you pulled them from a cold shelf at the grocery store or within 1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees.  If you won't use poultry, fish, ground meat, or variety meats within 1 or 2 days, freeze them.  For other beef, veal, lamb and pork, freeze within 3 to 5 days.

Thawing: Safely thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter.  If you'll be grilling right away, you can use the microwave for quicker thawing.

Marinating: Marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter.  Marinate poultry and cubed meat for as long as 2 days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to 5 days.  If some of the marinade will be used as a sauce, set aside a portion of it before putting raw meat in the rest of the marinade.  If you do use marinade on food that has come in contact with raw meat, poultry or fish make sure to boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria.


  • Hands that touch food should always be clean hands.
  • Keep food cold up until you put it on the grill.  Take meats, poultry and fish directly from the refrigerator to place them on the grill.
  • Do not use the same plates, platters, utensils or surfaces for raw meat, poultry and fish preparation that you use for cooked foods.  Or, clean well with hot soapy water between uses.  Remember, separate - don't cross contaminate.
  • Cook food to a safe internal temperature throughout (see photo).  Use a food thermometer.  Click this link (leads to another Food Hero tip) to see safe temperatures per food item.

Serving: When taking foods off the grill use clean utensils and put them onto a clean plate or platter.  

Leftovers: Food should never sit out (at room or outdoor temperature) for more than 2 hours or 1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees.  Refrigerate foods in shallow containers as soon as you are done eating.  Throw out foods that have been left out too long.

Adapted from the USDA handout "Barbeque and Food Safety," May 2011 version.

Cucumber Salad with TomatoesFood Hero Cucumber
Salad with Tomatoes

Make It a Meal: Side Dish Recipes

Below are some Food Hero side dish recipes that will go well with grilled food.  Each of them is served cold. You can prepare them ahead and have them waiting in the refrigerator until the grilled foods are ready to be served.  Many of these can even be cooked the day before to save time on grilling day.

Grilling Vegetables

Grilled vegetables provide a punch of flavor on the plate! Eat them on their own or within a recipe.

Tips for grilling all vegetables with success:

  • Grilling times vary for many reasons including grill heat, thickness and overall size of food pieces, where a food is placed on the grill, and personal taste.  So the times given below are simply a guide and reflect a medium to medium-high pre-heated grill. 
  • The best ways to tell when veggies are done grilling is when they have grill marks and a knife or fork can be pierced through them easily. 
  • Because veggies cook fast, it’s important to keep an eye on the grill.
  • If you are placing food directly on the grates, make sure the grill is clean and oiled.
  • Brush veggies lightly with oil or marinade to prevent sticking.  For a quick marinade try low-fat salad dressing.  Add a spice or combination of spices if you like.  The download in the toolbox on this page has information on what spices go well with different veggies.

Tips for grilling specific vegetables:

Vegetable Photo How to prepare Estimated cooking time


Thread asparagus through one or two skewers.  Skewer them in a row like a fence, one skewer toward the top and one toward the bottom.  (If asparagus break when putting on skewers, you can microwave for 1-2 minutes to soften them, so the skewers go through easily.) Turn once while grilling.

6 to 10 minutes total

Green peppers

Cut in half crosswise (horizontally) in the middle.  Remove stem and seeds.  Then cut each half into 4 even sized pieces.  Grill on skewers or directly on the grill grate.

4 to 8 minutes per side

Corn on the cob

In husks: Soak covered in water 15 to 30 minutes.  Then grill, turning every so often.  When cooked remove husks and silks and season if desired.
Without husks: Remove husks and silks and arrange on the grill parallel to the grates.  Turn occasionally.

In the husk: 25 to 30 minutes total


Without husks: 10 to 15 minutes total

Green Beans

Trim beans and wrap in a double layer of heavy foil.  Seal the edges of the foil tightly to make a packet.

8 to 10 minutes per side

Green onions

Trim the tops.  Turn several times while grilling.

3 to 7 minutes total

Lettuce, romaine

Remove the outer leafy leaves and save for salad or another use.  Cut the head of romaine in half lengthwise.

2 to 4 minutes per side

Mushrooms, button

Thread mushrooms on skewers through the stem and cap.  Turn often while grilling.

10 to 20 minutes total

Mushrooms, Portobello

Cook gill side up, then flip and cook a bit on the other side.

15 minutes gill side up, and then 1 to 2 minutes on the other side

Onion, red, yellow, or white

Peel onion and trim both ends.  Cut the onion crosswise (horizontally) into ½ inch slices. 


Directly on the grill: Use skewers as needed to hold the onion together. Depending on the width between grill grates you may be able to put them directly on the grill without skewers.


In a foil packet: Wrap slices in a double layer of heavy foil.  Seal the edges of the foil tightly to make a packet.  Turn often.

Over the grill: 7 to 9 minutes per side

In a foil packet: 30 to 40 minutes total

Potatoes, red

Cut in half, or into ½ inch slices.  Wrap in a double layer of heavy foil.  Seal the edges of the foil tightly to make a packet.

In half: 15 minutes per side

In slices: 15 to 20 minutes total

Summer squash: yellow or zucchini

Cut lengthwise (vertically) into ½ inch slices.  If the squash is really long cut in half down the middle before cutting lengthwise.

3 to 5 minutes per side

Tofu, “extra firm”

Press tofu for at least an hour before grilling to release water: lay tofu on a couple of towels in a bowl, layer a towel on top.  Place a bowl or other weight on top.  Refrigerate while pressing.

 Once pressed, cut into ¾ inch squares and skewer.

 If you want tofu packed with flavor marinate before skewering for at least 30 minutes, or even overnight.
5 to 8 minutes per side

Tomatoes, baby or pear

Thread tomatoes onto skewers.  Turn several times while grilling.

3 to 7 minutes total

Tomatoes, medium

Cut into half.  If you will grill both sides take out the watery pulp and seeds before grilling.

3 to 7 minutes total



Grilling Fruits

Grilled fruit can be a great addition to a meal (like the grilled pears in the salad pictured) or also the star of a tasty dessert.

Tips for grilling all fruits with success:

  • Grilling times are variable for many reasons including grill heat, thickness and overall size of food pieces, where a food is placed on the grill, and personal taste.  So the times in the table below are simply a guide and reflect a medium to medium-high pre-heated grill
  • The best way to tell when fruit is done grilling is when it has grill marks on it and a knife or fork can pierce it easily. 
  • Because fruit cooks fast it's important to keep an eye on the grill.
  • If you are putting food directly on the grates, make sure the grill is clean and oiled.
  • Brush fruit lightly with oil or marinade to prevent sticking.  For a quick marinade, combine vegetable oil, some citrus fruit juice like orange or lemon, and a spice or combination of spices (such as allspice, apple pie spice, basil, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mint, and/or nutmeg).

Tips for grilling specific fruits

Fruit Photo Grilling tips
Apples Cut in half and take out the core.   Soak for a few minutes in a water and lemon juice bath to help keep the apple moist while grilling.  Grill 6 to 8 minutes per side.
Bananas With bananas still in their peel cut crosswise once to get two pieces.  For smaller grilled pieces then cut lengthwise once to get four pieces.  Grill cut side down until grill marks appear (2 to 4 minutes).  Turn over and grill until the peel starts to come away from the fruit (4 to 5 minutes).
Peach, nectarine and apricots Cut in half and pit.  Grill cut side down 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Pears Cut in half and remove the core.  Grill cut side down 5 to 7 minutes per side.
Pineapple After slicing off the top and bottom and cutting off the rind, slice crosswise (horizontally) into flat circles about 1/2 inch thick.  Cook 3 minutes per side.
Watermelon Cut into 1 inch slices.  Grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side.


Related Tools

Kids Can Help With Grilling

When kids help create a grilled meal, they learn about grilling at the same time. Here are a few tasks to get kids involved in grilling:

  • Choose colorful veggies and fruits.
  • Wash the produce.
  • Cut produce (with an adults help).
  • Measure and mix marinades.
  • Carry serving plates.
  • Time the cooking.
  • Carry grilled foods to table.
  • Put away the leftovers.

See the Food Hero Cooking with Kids tip for more ways to get kids in the kitchen.

Food Hero Fish TacosFood Hero Fish Tacos

Using Leftovers From the Grill

Here are some ways you can make extra food on the grill and use it the next day. Use these ideas for meats, poultry, fish, veggies and fruits:

  • Toss them into a lettuce based salad.  Try using grilled corn and onions in Personal Salad in a Bag.
  • Use them to add color and flavor to a pasta salad.  Try using grilled chicken, green pepper, pineapple, apples, or red onion in Personalized Pasta Salad.
  • Try leftover veggies in scrambled eggs.
  • Add to quesadillas.  Try using grilled pears in Pear Quesadillas.
  • Use in tacos.  Try using grilled fish, pineapples and tomatoes in Fish Tacos (see photo).
  • Make a sandwich, burrito or wrap using a pita or tortilla for bread. Try using grilld chicken or tofu in Sunshine Roll-Ups.
  • Top your breakfast with grilled fruit such as peaches, pineapples or bananas.  Try it with oatmeal, Gingerbread Pancakes or Oven French Toast.


Last updated: 01/11/13

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