The latest health scare: even if you do everything else right, barbecuing your food can make you sick. Barbecue, recent research has found, can create carcinogens in high enough quantities to make a real impact on your health.
Now being from the South, I have no intention of giving up my barbecue. It’s just not going to happen. So for me, and for all you other folks who love barbecue, here are some tips for keeping your barbecue as safe and healthy as possible.
1. Keep it in moderation. Anything taken to excess is likely to be bad for you, and barbeque is no exception. If you don’t barbecue more than once a week, you’ll minimize the impact of your tasty meats and vegetables on your health.
2. Don’t cook it too hot. I know, I know, the only proper way to barbecue is to roast the meat at the highest possible temperature. Here’s the problem: the hotter your temperature and longer the exposure, the more likely carcinogens will be formed in your meats. The good news is that meat is better if it’s only seared or slow-cooked at a lower temperature. So learn to cook your barbeque better for the healthiest results.
3. Coat your meat with BBQ sauce before grilling, instead of afterward. When smoke hits bare meat, the proteins are transformed into benzopyrenes, which are carcinogens. If your meat is well coated with sauce before you grill, that will protect the outer layer of meat from that change in character. You can also keep a spray bottle filled with water handy to put out any flareups, or keep your meats on heavy-duty aluminum foil instead of the bare grill rack.
Putting it into perspective, however, the smoke from your grill or cigarettes and not using sunscreen are both more likely to cause cancer to avid cookout chefs than charred meat. Don’t stress too much if you don’t get that side strip on your chicken breasts thoroughly coated.
4. Choose less fatty cuts of meat. Carcinogens aren’t just found in barbecued meats; they are also found naturally in all meat, and fat is the worst part for storing them. Skin your chicken, and consider trying some juicy portabella mushrooms as an experimental substitute.
5. Learn to grill veggies in heavy-duty aluminum foil along with your meat, and eat plenty of them. While boiled vegetables lose much of their beneficial flavonoids and other healthy substances, grilled or steamed ones do not. Broccoli, corn on the cob, carrots, roasted potatoes, onions, peppers, and a variety of squash grilled with your meat, perhaps lightly seasoned with the same rub you used on your meats, are great accompaniments to your grilled foods and taste great too.
Hint: learn to leave off the butter and most of the salt. Your vegetables will taste better just barbecued plain, or dipped in the same barbeque sauce your meats use.
6. Learn to make your own barbeque sauce. It’s not all that hard, and if you make your own with fresh ingredients, you have much more control over variables like sodium, sugar, and fresh rather than canned vegetables. In addition, you’ll get the reputation for being a really fabulous cook – just because you can make your own.
There are hundreds of great barbecue sauce recipes online – the Kansas City orange-based sauces, Carolina vinegars, Georgia sugars, and Texas hearty chile sauces. Every single one is better than the bottled sauces you find on the shelves, if you make it the way you like it. Experimentation is the key to finding your perfect sauce.
7. Choose less fattening side dishes – skip the mayonnaise dishes and chips, and go for fresh veggie trays, fruit trays, or even fruit kabobs.
8. Sear only steaks and other complete cuts of beef. Chicken, pork, and ground meats of any kind must be cooked thoroughly to kill bacteria and trichomanosis, and searing these meats will result only in undercooked portions or in tough, leathery meat with unhealthy charred outsides.
9. Clean your grill with a wire brush, not soap and water, because the fats left on the bars will season them and prevent food from sticking the next time you grill. However, always allow your grill to heat before placing more food on it to kill any bacteria that may have hung around since last time.
10. Always clean your grilling equipment (tongs, baskets, etc) in hot water every time you grill, and use the same intelligent precautions with meat that you’d use in the kitchen – like not getting your raw vegetables close to where you’ve had raw chicken. You’re more likely to get sick from salmonella contamination in your spinach salad than in your chicken. Keep the Lysol handy, and spray down any surfaces that are contaminated with raw meats.