(maybe not the first thing that comes to mind when you think summer, but something we need to be aware of none-the-less.).
Before you throw away your new BBQ, or give up your favourite grilled burger for good, here are a few tips that may help to minimize the harmful chemicals produced when grilling meat.
Let's talk HCA's...
Heterocyclic amines (HCA's) are chemicals that are formed when the protein (amino acids) in meat combine with sugars when applied to heat. Some HCA's are mutagenic and known carcinogens. A carcinogen is a substance that is directly involved in causing cancer, and the carcinogens formed by grilling meat have been linked to colorectal, pancreatic, breast and stomach cancers. The good news is there are ways to minimize HCA formation when grilling meat. Here are a few tips:
Make that rare, please.
First off, the more well done the meat is, the longer it is on the grill, and the more charred it becomes, the more carcinogenic potential it has. In other words, learn to love a medium rare rather than a well done steak and you are already on your way to cultivating a healthier grill. Similarly, the less fat a meat contains the less likely it is to cause flare-ups (from dripping oil/fat) and therefore the less likely it is to create carcinogenic HCA's and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's), another carcinogenic material in the smoke that is created by meat cooking on a barbeque. Although there is still certainly potential for chicken and fish to contain these chemicals, depending on how well these meats are cooked, there is a higher amount of HCA's in fatty meats, like beef and pork.
Keep it low and slow...
Going hand in hand with how well the meats are cooked is how quickly they are cooked (the faster they are cooked, usually the more charred they are.). How high a temperature the meat is cooked at also determines their carcinogenic content. Keep the heat low and steady and flipping frequently to prevent burning are some ways to decrease carcinogen formation. Some BBQ experts suggest turning off the middle burner on your BBQ and keeping the side burners on, while grillin meat the in middle. This also prevents the meat from charring due to direct contact with a heat source or a grill fire. Low and slow cooking also usually means less smoke, and where these is less smoke, there is less PAH.
MARINATE your meat
Not only does marinating add flavour and make meat more tender, but research is now showing that it may also help to minimize HCA formation. Marinades can help to draw out chemical precursors of carcinogens. Try to marinate your meat for 12-24 hours before cooking. There is also some research to suggest that the lower the pH of the marinade, with acidic marinades having the ability to denature some of the proteins in the meat before it is placed over the heat, may also be related to a lower carcinogenic potential. This makes lemon juice a healthy and tasty addition to any marinade. Herbs such as basil, rosemary, mint, thyme, sage and oregano may also help to block the formation of HCA's. Try to avoid oils, such as olive oil, in marinades. Over the high heat of the BBQ, these only seem to add to the carcinogenic content of the meat.
A clean grill is a healthy grill...
Keep your grill clean, so there are no charred and highly carcinogenic material stuck to the grill which will then transfer to your food the next time you use it. Also consider spreading aluminum foil over the grill (shiny side up), making sure to cut hole for the fat to drip through. This helps to eliminate charring and reduce potential for carcinogens to form on meat.
Lastly, don't forget your veggies. Grilling fruit and veg will not create these carcinogenic chemicals and can be just as tasty and satisfying. Try a grilled portbello mushroom on your burger bun, or veggie skewers. Throw in some pineapple chunks for a little variety. Remember to include as many bright and varied colours to your plate as possible. Bright red and orange peppers, zucchini, onions, broccoli and tomatoes are all excellent options for grilling, and all high in antioxidants.
Keep the grill, just change a few of your grilling habits!!! A healthy compromise. Enjoy.