As the weather warms, and Father’s Day approaches, thoughts turn to the grill. Grilling is easy, it lends itself beautifully to get-togethers and lets you stay outside. So why am I pouring water on our grilling fires? It turns out that grilling food can expose it to two different types of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens):
- PAHs, created when the food’s fat drips onto the heat source, causing the food to be coated with PAH-filled smoke
- HCAs, created when food is cooked over high heat, and when red meat is cooked well-done
And it doesn’t matter if you use wood, charcoal or gas to grill your food; the effect is the same.
So do we give up grilling altogether? No! Just follow these guidelines for healthier grilling and enjoy your meal.
- Choose fish over meat. Fish generally contains less fat than meat and poultry do, which makes it less likely to create PAH-carrying smoke. And it tends to require much less time on the grill, reducing its exposure to carcinogens.
- Don’t char your meat. While you want to cook meat thoroughly (especially poultry), you don’t want to cook it beyond all recognition. Avoid well-done meat as much as possible.
- Keep the fat to a minimum. Choose lean cuts of meat, trim all visible fat, and remove skin from chicken.
- Precook your foods. Partially cooking meat or poultry in the microwave for two to five minutes draws out most of the potentially harmful chemicals without sacrificing moistness. (Be sure to discard the juices produced.) To prevent bacteria from multiplying, grill the food immediately after precooking.
- Oil your grill. A little oil keeps charred material from sticking to the food. (It also helps keep fish and chicken in one piece.)
- Use aluminum foil. Make tiny holes in a piece of foil and place it on the grill underneath your meat. The holes let the fat drip down, and the foil reduces the amount of smoke that billows back up. Wrapping the meat completely with perforated foil is an even better idea.
- Lower the heat. On charcoal grills, increase the distance between the food and the hot coals by spreading the coals thin or by propping the grill rack on bricks. Simply adjust the heat setting on gas grills.
- Stick to charcoal and hardwood (like hickory and maple) because they burn at lower temperatures than softwood (like pine).
- Clean your grill. 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.
- My favorite bonus tip: marinate your food before grilling it. Researchers have found that marinating food reduces the resulting carcinogens by more than 90%, possibly by drawing out the chemical precursors of carcinogens. Just be sure to treat marinades, which draw bacteria from meat and poultry, as a raw food. To use a marinade as a serving sauce, set aside a portion before you place the meat in it or boil it for three minutes before serving.
Lisa’s Magical Marinade
Makes about 2 cups
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup spicy barbecue sauce (or not spicy, your choice)
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon each salt & freshly ground pepper
This marinade can be used on just about anything: steak, chicken, pork, salmon. Marinate the protein for up to one day in the refrigerator, then grill until properly cooked.