How To Grill Without Frying Your Health
Somehow it’s August already, which means summer grilling season is in full swing. Whether you’re cooking a fun evening meal or perfecting a dish for Labor Day Weekend, chances are you’re firing up the grill. The problem is that the heat of the BBQ can burn more than dinner if you’re not careful.
The same fire that produces that divine flavor also produces toxins, chiefly chemicals formed when meat, including fish and poultry, is cooked using high heat. Specifically, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form when substances in meat react together at high temperatures and polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are created when burning fat produces residues that adhere to food surfaces. Both are suspected carcinogens.
But don’t give up on your grill just yet! The following strategies can put health back on the menu:
- Use the healthiest and safest grill. Electric or gas models burn cleanest and coolest, and are most efficient and easiest to control. Hybrid grills that add a little charcoal or wood to the mix are next. In last place are charcoal and wood grills. (Sorry, purists!) If you’re willing to forgo char, solar ovens are arguably safer than all of the above.
- If you insist on charcoal, use sustainably produced natural charcoal or wood. You want to avoid petrochemical briquettes. (Hardwoods burn cooler than mesquite or softwoods.) And always light it with a chimney starter, never lighter fluid.
- Choose lean cuts of meat. Remove fat and skin before cooking to reduce dripping fat. Or pick fish or shellfish, which drip even less and cook faster.
- Make sure meat is fully thawed before grilling. That way, it spends less time over flames.
- Get the party started with your microwave. Committed chefs may throw tomatoes at us for suggesting this, but consider “precooking” meat in the microwave for 2 to 5 minutes and only finishing it on the grill. Toss the juices that result and you’ll cut HCAs by up to 90%.
- Cook small(er) pieces. They finish faster and that means less time for the undesirable chemicals to accumulate.
- Grill veggies! They create few if any HCAs or PAHs and their antioxidants may help counter any toxins on your plate.
- Let it marinate. Even a few minutes in a marinade creates an edible barrier that protects against heat and HCAs. Marinades made with vinegar or lemon change meats’ acidity to help prevent PAHs from sticking to food. Sugary marinades encourage charring and should be saved for the final minutes.
- Cook food as far above the heat as possible. You'll keep flames and flare-ups to minimum.