Everyone loves the taste and smell of a good barbecue, and I’ve got some tips for you that will make your grilled feasts that much better. It’s unfortunate that some aspects of barbecuing might actually be hazardous to your health, but the good news is that there are some things you can do to safely continue enjoying this favorite style of cooking.
Banish bad bacteria
Most of us know that we shouldn’t use the same plates for raw and cooked food. But did you know that you should use a separate brush for marinating raw meat and another for basting meat as it cooks? When you marinate meat, do it in the fridge, and discard the marinade. Use fresh marinade to baste meat while it cooks. If you must transport meat before cooking, keep it on ice and cook it as soon as possible.
Defrost frozen meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Ground beef gets more exposed to bad bacteria than normal meat, because of the grinding process, so make sure it’s cooked properly. If you can, use meat thermometers to ensure that grilled meats reach adequate cooking temperatures.
Keep cooked food as hot as possible until you serve it. Afterward, refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible within two hours of cooking.
Don’t let it burn!
Someone tried to serve me a blackened bratwurst the other day, and I insisted that they give me another. After researching this column, I’m glad I did — though I worry about whoever ended up eating it! The high temperatures that occur when meat is overcooked, or char-grilled, form carcinogens called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. In studies, rodents fed a diet containing HCA’s grew all sorts of cancers, including colon, breast and prostate.
HCAs form when a food component called creatine and naturally occurring sugars are heated. One report I read surprisingly claimed that grilled chicken breast was the worst offender, followed by steak and pork. Grilled salmon supposedly produces significantly less HCAs.
Don’t put your food on the grill until the temperature’s right, as changes in cooking temperature can cause food to burn. Watch that high heat, as it burns food more easily. Also, add barbecue sauce to meat later rather than sooner to keep it from burning. Wait even longer with sugar-containing sauces, as sugar has a low-burning point and chars easily.
Good news: Because creatine is found in muscle tissue, non-animal foods such as fruits and vegetables create almost no HCA’s at all when grilled. So, you can happily grill those veggie burgers, portabella mushroom “steaks” and veggie kebabs, worry-free.
When you grill meat over a direct flame, and fats drip into the fire, other potential carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, form. These rise and then coat the surface of your food. Some studies have linked regular PAH intake to stomach cancer. Avoid poking your meat while it’s cooking, to prevent juice running out and dripping into the flames. Also, trim visible fat from your meats before cooking.
A recent study out of the University of South Carolina found that postmenopausal women who consumed the most grilled, barbecued or smoked red meat over their lifetime had a 47 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Those who ate few fruits and vegetables had a whopping 74 percent increased risk. Oddly enough, grilled, smoked or barbecued poultry and fish weren’t found to increase cancer risk. Researchers commented that they weren’t sure that it was truly the effect of the grilled meat or some other confounding dietary or lifestyle factors at work.
Grill those fruits and veggies!
Fruits and vegetables make a fantastic, healthy addition to your grill, and they will help fight those nasty carcinogens. Soak vegetables in water for up to half an hour before grilling, to prevent their drying out. Marinate vegetables in advance or just brush them with olive oil before grilling; many vegetables work great cut in half, grilling them with the cut side down. Grill water-soaked corn-on-the-cob in its husk, or cook oil-basted potatoes in aluminum foil. Fruits such as pineapple and mango make wonderful, juicy kebobs. Spear them together with fish, meats or seafood.
Fish and seafood make fabulous grilled feasts
Make you sure you invite some of those wonderful omega-3 fatty acids to your backyard party. Most fish can be cooked straight on your grill, using high heat and brushing them with oil to prevent sticking. Get creative with marinades; try citrus, ginger and garlic for flavor. Don’t forget that fish and seafood cook much more quickly than meat. Prawns, shrimp, scallops and small, firm fish pieces work great on kebobs.
Make it low on calories and high on flavor
Trimming off visible fat before cooking doesn’t just prevent PAH formation — it’s also better for your waistline. And marinades don’t have to be gooey barbecue sauces; try making them with low-calorie salad dressings, wine, and fruit and citrus juices instead. Fruit salsas are a popular, delicious way to add flavor, texture and wonderful nutrients to your grilled foods, guilt-free.