It’s primo BBQ season, complete with cold watermelon, tangy potato salad and mouth-watering burgers and steaks. No doubt these BBQ favorites are delicious. But is grilling meat healthy?Some studies have found grilling meat at high temperatures, combined with the smoke from burning coals and fat drips that cause flare ups, can create carcinogens (cancer-causing agents.)
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, if you haven’t mastered your BBQ technique and end up with charred or burned meat or chicken, this increases your cancer risk. PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) from the smoke and HCAs (heterocyclic amines) formed in well-done meat cooked at high temperatures are the cancer-linked culprits.
10 Ways to Grill Healthier
Before you kick your BBQ grill to the curb, there is some good news and great tips to make grilling healthier for you and your family.
1. Add fruits and vegetables to the grill. Grilling vegetables and fruits doesn’t create carcinogens, so enjoy those in greater quantity than meats. In fact, fruits and vegetables may even counter the affects of the grilled meats. Studies have shown that flavonoids, natural compounds found in fruit, vegetables, tea and red wine, can block the formation of HCAs. For your next burger BBQ, try adding one cup of mashed cherries to a pound of ground beef. Research showed this suppressed carcinogen formation by 90 percent. Consider it your “house specialty” at your next cookout and the guests will rave!
2. Marinate for flavor and health. Researchers have found marinating meat in beer or red wine reduced levels of HCAs by up to 88 percent. Another study showed olive oil, lemon juice and garlic marinade cut HCA levels in chicken by as much as 90 percent.
3. Reduce portion size. Smaller pieces of meat cook faster and at lower temperatures, so fewer HCAs are produced. Kabobs anyone?
4. Choose leaner meat. Grill sirloin, tenderloin, inside round and flank steak and trim visible fat. Less fat means fewer drips that cause the unhealthy fire flare ups and smoke.
5. Precook in the microwave. Partially cooking meat or chicken in the microwave for two to five minutes reduces some of the potentially harmful chemicals. Some research shows cooking in the microwave for two minutes before grilling can decrease HCAs by 90 percent.
6. Don’t leave your grill post. A study found that burgers cooked at a lower temperature and turned every minute while cooking had 75 to 95 percent fewer carcinogens than burgers turned only once after five minutes of cooking. And you’re less likely to burn the meat if you’re vigilant!
7. Lower the heat. Less heat means fewer HCAs created. On charcoal grills, keep more distance between the food and the hot coals by spreading the coals out in a thin layer, or by raising the grill rack up on bricks. And use charcoal and hardwood, such as hickory and maple, instead of softwood (pine) chips because they burn at lower temperatures. On gas grills, just lower the settings.
8. Keep it neat. Scrub your grill thoroughly after every use to avoid a buildup of carcinogens that can be transferred to your food the next time you grill.
9. Make an aluminum barrier. By spreading aluminum foil on the grill, you can reduce flare-ups. Make small holes in the foil to allow fat to drain.
10. Grill fish instead. Not only is fish healthier overall, it also contains less fat than meat and poultry, so it’s less likely to create carcinogens and cause flare-ups. Fish also cooks faster so there’s less exposure to carcinogens.