Outdoor grilling is a much-anticipated ritual of summer. The smell of grilled vegetables, fish, and meats wafting through the evening air is enough to inspire any of us to relax and enjoy ourselves this summer. Grilling is easy, effortlessly delicious, and can be healthier.
However, did you know that grilling can also create toxic compounds that are linked to adverse health effects that range from headaches and respiratory irritation to many forms of cancer?
Don’t worry: You don’t need to retire your grilling utensils. But you should consider incorporating the tips below on how to avoid cancer-causing chemicals and other toxic compounds while continuing to enjoy the flavorful goodness of a grilled meal all summer long!
1. Avoid “Well Done”
Yes, I’m crying a little inside too. I only like my meat cook well done or I won’t touch it but here’s why you shouldn’t:
Cooking meats until they are well done poses two issues: By maximizing the cooking time, meat is exposed to high temperatures for longer (creating more HCA-laden char), and there is a greater opportunity for fat and juices to drip off (creating PAH-contaminated smoke). In 2005, a study from the National Cancer Institute found that “very well done meat was positively associated with prostate cancer risk.” If you’re a male you should heed this fact and stay away from well done meat.
2. Get Informed about Marinades
Marinades with acidic elements, such as beer, wine, vinegar, or lemon juice, prevent PAHs from sticking to cooked meats. Marinades that contain sugar, such as barbecue sauce, should only be used in the last few minutes of grilling, as they encourage charring. In fact, years ago, a study found that using barbecue sauce caused an increase of toxic chemicals that are formed during the grilling process. Mind BLOWN. I love having barbecue chicken but it sounds like I will be slathering on that delicious sauce last minute.
3. Trim the Fat
Trimming meats will reduce the amount of fat that will drip into the grill, which forms PAH-contaminated smoke. This will reduce toxicity of your meats! Yes, less fat on my meat means less fat on me! Besides, fat is just gross, I don’t know how people consume it.
4. Drip or Wrap It
Using a drip rack or wrapping foods in a packet serves a similar purpose to trimming the fat: Less fat, juices, and smoke will contaminate meat with PAHs. Besides its a great way to keep your chicken moist and suck up all those delicious veggie juices.
5. Turn Often
Scientific studies have found that continuously flipping the protein over high heat can reduce the formation of HCAs, in comparison to simply leaving meat on the heat source. Want to just sear the outside of your steak? No problem as long as your flipping quickly and not allowing it to sit too long.
6. Adios Char
Charred bits on your meat contain HCAs in their purest form, so eliminating them from your meal is a high-impact way to make grilling safer. I remember eating hot dogs that were literally black when I was younger. No more char marks for me sadly. I’ll have to eat my turkey dogs like a normal person now.
7. More Veggies Please
HCAs form when amino acids and creatine — a chemical found in muscle tissue — react at high cooking temperatures. According to experts, since vegetables don’t contain creatine, grilling vegetables and fruits is healthier than grilling meats. Plus, many vegetables have cancer-fighting and immune-boosting properties.
8. Keep it Squeaky Clean
Charred, carcinogenic residues that contain high concentrations of HCAs can stick to the grill after each use and contaminate future meals. Research “nontoxic ways to clean a grill” online for healthy ways to remove these charred bits. It can be as easy as using aluminum foil and vinegar. Please note that though wire bristle brushes are popular, bristles can break off and get into your meat. There have been cases of this.
9. Choose Thinner Cuts
Thinner cuts of meat will require less cooking time, which will reduce the meat’s exposure to high temperatures, and therefore, carcinogenic chemicals. If you think a thinner cut of meat just won’t cut it for you then cook more. That’s more food for your belly without the toxins.
10. Less Lighter Fluid
If you’re using a charcoal grill, remember that petroleum-based lighter fluid has been found to release VOCs, which can be inhaled and contaminate your food. Healthier fire starters include chimney and electric charcoal starters. If you need to use lighter fluid go for it but use only as much as you need.
Now that you know everything you shouldn’t do, here are some tasty recipes to light that grill up!