Summer is in full swing and there is nothing more all-American than a good outdoor barbeque! But before you fire up those coals you should be aware that recent research by the National Institute of Health has discovered two cancer-causing byproducts associated with barbecuing red meat, poultry, lamb, pork, and fish. The first is a carcinogen called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs are formed when meat is overcooked or char-grilled. The second carcinogen associated with barbecuing is polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are formed when fat drips onto the coals or a hot surface and are transferred to the food via the smoke. They can also form directly on the food when it is charred.
But don’t throw out that BBQ grill! Instead, follow these simple safety tips so you and your family can enjoy a healthy barbequed dinner.
- On a charcoal grill, push the coals to the sides and place a drip pan in the empty area under your food to prevent flame-ups. Make sure to cook at a lower temperature and with the lid closed. The coals shouldn’t be flaming. Cook when they are glowing and have a layer of gray ash on the top.
- On a gas grill, use only the outer burners. Cook food in the center above a drip pan with the lid closed using the lowest temperature possible.
- Cut down on the amount of meat you cook and instead choose more fruits and vegetables like peaches, nectarines, portabella mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, and bell peppers. When you do cook meat, make sure to trim the fat to reduce the chance of flame-ups.
- Use the lowest temperature to cook your food thoroughly. Keep your grill rack as high as possible to keep the food further from the heat source. Use a meat thermometer you won’t have food on the grill any longer than necessary.
- Flip food frequently to avoid charring. Use a spatula instead of stabbing it with a fork which will allow fat to drip onto the coal.
- Use a drip pan and keep water in a spray bottle to quickly put out flame-ups.
- Marinating food has been shown to reduce the formation of cancer-causing substances. The ingredients (especially vinegar) in marinades can actually protect the meat and reduce the chances of carcinogenic compounds forming.
- When you are done cooking, clean any oil or grease off your grill by turning up the heat to high and closing the lid for about 10 minutes. Then use a grill brush to clean the grates.
Still concerned? The best way to deal with these warnings is moderation. Use safe grilling techniques and limit your barbequed dinners to two or three times a week.