I love to cook on a charcoal grill, using hardwood briquettes. Usually it is the man of the house that takes charge of the outdoor grilling for parties, but that is not the case in my household. My late husband had absolutely no interest in cooking on the grill. Since I enjoyed the food on the grill, it was necessary to become somewhat of an expert on charcoal grilling.
Grills across the country are firing up for holiday and summertime picnics. Unfortunately, the fiery charcoal that makes food so tasty, can also cause cancer causing agents, known as carcinogens, to form in the food. In addition, many traditional picnics serving during summertime parties, Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, are notoriously high in fat.
Grilling food at high temperatures or for too long, causes compounds called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) to form. HAAs are linked to alll sorts of cancers, including breast, colon, stomach, prostate and pancreatic cancer.
Barbecue and picnic dining does not have to be unhealthy. In fact, simple fresh picnic fare featuring fruits and vegetbles can be very healthy. There are steps that can make that tasty barbeque safer to eat.
1. Marinate the meat. Marinating the meat for at least ten minutes before cooking reduces the formation of HAA’s. Use a homemade marinade or a bottled product. Great tasting marinades include teriyaki, citrus, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Citrus juices loaded with garlic, onions herbs and spices are excellent marinades. According to Real Age, rosemary is a particularly helpful herb that reduces formation of HAAs. Cilantro is another helpful herb, that has antibacterial properties that may prevent food poisoning.
Cinnamon and oil of oregano fight microbes. A simple home made marinade can consist of olive oil and red wine vinegar, combined with garlic and whatever herbs and spices you prefer. Meat can be marinated for several hours, even overnight. The longer the meat marinates, the more flavoring it will pick up from the marinade. However long you decide to marinate, keep the meat with marinade in the refrigerator until it’s time to grill.
2. Add tart cherries to ground burger. This unusual tip comes from Real Age (realage.com). According to Real Age, adding chopped tart cherries to the ground meat mixture makes the hamburgers healthier and tastier. The cherries make the burgers juicier, lower in fat nd reduces cancer causing agents in the grilled meat. Add about a third of a cup of chopped tart cherries to every pound of meat mixture. This slashes the HAA production by as much as 90 percent. Save some of those cherries for delicious cherry pie!
3. Turn down the temperature on the BBQ grill. If you have a gas grill, set the temperature to 320 – 356 degrees Fahrenheit (or 160-180 degrees Celsius). Higher temperatures increase the formation of nasty HAAs.
4. If you have a charcoal BBQ grill, there is no thermometer. Use good judgment when firing the grill. My late husband used twice as much charcoal as I did when barbecuing. . When I asked why he used so much charcoal, his response was “because you’re supposed to”, accompanied by a somewhat blank stare. My guess is that is the “manly” way to grill.
His fires were much hotter, often lasting far past the completion of the meal. The hot fires did not make the food any better, in fact I find overly hot fires difficult to work with. Use less charcoal and create a fire with a lower temperature. Sure it might take a little longer, but it gives the meat more time to absorb the fragrance of the hardwood, hickory or mesquite used for cooking. The lower cooking temperature also causes less carcinogens to form, making the food healthier.
5. Move the meat to the edges of the BBQ grill. Cancer causing agents form when the fats from the meat sizzle on the hot charcoals, causing a flame to rise up and sear the meat, making that tasty crust. Unfortunately, that tasty crust on the meat is exactly what we are supposed to avoid. Move the meat to edges of the grill where the fat that drips off of the meat won’t come in contact with hot charcoal.
6. Microwave first. Microwaving meat for 2-5 minutes before putting it on the grill can drain some of the fat off of the meat, leaving less fat to drip on the grill. Partially cooking the meat in the microwave results in less cooking time on the grill and less formation of HAAs.
7. Keep flipping. Flipping the meat every minute or so helps it to cook fast and more evenly. Flipping the burgers helps to reduce formation of HAAs.
8. Use a meat thermometer. Make sure the meat is cooked to the right internal temperature to kill lurking organisms that cause illness.
9. Use a separate platter for raw and cooked meats. Many people make the mistake of using a platter to bring the raw meat to the grill and using the same platter to put the cooked meat on when the food is cooked. This puts the hot cooked meat onto raw juices that may contain bacteria, contaminating the food. Don’t pour the raw leftover marinade on the meat after the meat is finished cooking.
10. Avoid cross contamination. Use safe cooking practices. Don’t use the same cutting board or utensils on the vegetables and the meat.
Most of all, enjoy. Relax with a glass of wine, beer or lemonade while waiting for the delicious barbecue meal to be ready to eat.
Information is this article is not intended as medical advice.