Friday, July 17, 2009

Safe & healthy grilling

As much as I love outdoor grilling in the summer I’m still not entirely comfortable around a gas barbeque. May be it’s the childhood memories of undercooked chicken legs served at neighbourhood barbeques. Or it could be the fact that, years ago, I got singed more than once igniting our grill with a match. But those worries pale in comparison to the discomfort I now feel after having done a little research into health issues concerning grilled food.

Before you get too worried there are many ways to grill safely. But let me first tell you what happens when you don’t.

Are you someone who likes to eat the crispy charred bits on your meat? Are you unfazed by grease flare ups that send flames above grill level? Here’s a reality check:

When fat drips onto the coals causing flare ups it forms a number of noxious chemicals (PAHs for short) that rise up in the smoke and cling to your food. The intense heat from the flame can cause other toxic chemicals form in the fatty juices that coat your food (called HCA’s). HCAs and PAHs are menu items that you want to avoid. They are known carcinogens and studies have linked them to an increased risk for colon, pancreatic and breast cancers. (Red meat isn’t the only food that this can happen to – any animal fat will do it, or fish.)

No need to avoid the BBQ. Follow these tips for healthy grilling:

- Simple marinades with citrus or olive oil can help to reduce the occurrence of these chemicals, and make your meal more flavourful in the process.
- Some herbs can reduce the formation of these chemicals. One study in particular credited rosemary with reducing the occurrence of HCAs.
- Have your spray bottle of water handy to douse any flames.
- Try cooking on indirect heat. My greatest grilling success yet was a half chicken cooked over indirect heat (only one burner on and your meat on the unlit side, with the lid closed.)
- Another way to grill indirectly is to cook your food on a grill pan or on a cedar plank.
- Don’t eat the charred bits on your meat, that’s the worst offender (contains the greatest amount of PAHs and HCAs).
- Trim visible fat off your meat before grilling. Better yet, choose lean cuts of meat.
- The longer you cook your meat the more toxic it can become. So choose small cuts of meat that cook quickly, or choose fish or seafood.
- Keep the bottom of your grill clean (to minimize smoking fat).
- Clean your grill racks well. Soak them overnight in hot water and baking soda. If you’re rushed for time, scrub them on the lawn with a paste made out baking soda and water. Then hose them down.

Smart grilling can keep you safely enjoying your summer favourites.

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