There’s something liberating about barbecue season. Enjoying a meal outside on a lovely summer evening always feels like the ultimate in relaxed eating. But not everything is rosy when it comes to using a backyard barbecue. Cooking over a flame is about the least healthy way to prepare food.
The less time your meat spends over a flame the better. This is why:
When meat is cooked at high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds can form in the fatty juices. Called HCAs, these compounds have been associated with higher rates of colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers. Flare ups caused by dripping fat can coat your meat with another family of carcinogens, called PAHs.
Although this sounds a little scary, it doesn’t mean you need to stop grilling. There are some simple ways to reduce these unwelcome compounds and get the great barbecue flavour that you love.
Here are 11 tips to for healthier grilling:
- Choose smaller cuts of meat that cook more quickly or precook your meat a little bit. The less time your food spends over a flame the better.
- Grill more fish, lean chicken, vegetables and fruit. Fish and lean chicken cooks more quickly and at lower temperatures.
- Cook your meat over indirect heat so meat that can take a long time to cook doesn’t spend too long over a flame. With this method drippings don’t fall on flames so don’t create smoke.
- Take care to keep your meat from burning and if it does burn a little don’t eat the charred bits.
- Some herbs and spices can inhibit the formation of HCAs (some research has shown that rosemary can reduce HCAs by more than 60%) and marinades can be even more effective in reducing the amount of HCAs that form. Marinades with vinegar or lemon juice work best. Barbecue sauce can protect against HCAs and PAHs, although it can burn easily so should be brushed on during the last few minutes of cooking.
- Trim visible fat off your meat to reduce flare ups and keep a spray bottle of water handy to douse any flames.
- Keep your grill racks clean so grit from last week’s barbecue doesn’t cause flare ups. Keep the bottom of your grill clean to minimize smoking fat.
- If you like to grill with charcoal choose natural lump charcoal. Conventional briquettes are made with coal dust, sodium nitrate, sawdust or petroleum products. Burning them pollutes contaminates the food you’re grilling.
- Avoid processed meats like hot dogs and grill fresh meat, poultry and fish instead. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, eating even small amounts of sausage and hot dogs increase colorectal cancer risk. (The Institute recommends avoiding these foods, except for special occasions.)
- Choose ceramic coated or stainless steel grill baskets instead of Teflon coated grilling accessories since Teflon comes with its own set of worries when exposed to high temperatures and the non-stick coating can be easily scratched by metal barbecue tools.
- If you’re feeding a crowd avoid Styrofoam and plastic plates. Hot food can melt the Styrofoam and allows your food to absorb some of the chemicals. Choose paper plates instead (and put them in the compost) or better yet, buy reusable plates made from bamboo or other natural materials.