7 Tips to Make Your Grilling Healthier
Lately, grilling has had some bad press. But it is not all bad news.
You do not need to reinvent the wheel in order to grill something healthy and delicious. Nor do you need to spend hours trawling the internet for new recipes.
We have compiled 7 easy tips to make grilling healthier.
So fire up the grill, put a couple of these tips into action and enjoy your next barbecue, knowing it's not so bad for you after all!
The Health Risks of Grilling
Grilling has enjoyed the reputation of being one of the healthier ways to prepare your food for some time - as the fat runs off the meat. But in recent years, concerns have come to light.
First and foremost, in the 1980’s some studies found that the fat dripping off the meat onto the coals or element below produces carcinogenic compounds, namely polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
PAHs are transferred onto the meat in flare ups, via the smoke that rises from below. It is also found in those charred bits on the surface of the meat.
HCAs develop when meats are cooked at high temperatures.
Additionally, sausages and other pre-packaged meats usually contain nitrates and nitrites.
While there is some conjecture around just how dangerous these chemicals are in themselves, one thing does seem fairly sure; when they are heated to high temperatures, the chemical changes that take place increase the risk of some cancers, which sadly, is a black mark against bacon and eggs on Sunday morning.
There is also the risk of food poisoning if meat is not handled correctly, although this risk is present no matter how you cook your food.
And from left field, comes the danger of cleaning the grill.
Wire brushes do a great job of cleaning off all that charred fat, but if one of these bristles comes loose, they can get lodged in the digestive tract and do some serious damage.
Now that we are all concerned and looking at our beloved grill with a level of distrust and suspicion, let's find out what we can do to mitigate these issues.
1. Use lean cuts of meat
The less fat that is on your meat to begin with, the less there is to drip onto the heat source below and form these nasty compounds.
Choose cuts of meat that are lean, or have had most of the visible fat trimmed off. You can also opt to trim the fat off yourself if you can’t find any suitable cuts in store.
Not only will this reduce the amount of PAH’s and HCA’s, but it is a healthier choice in general.
2. Keep your grill clean
By keeping your grill clean, you reduce the amount of cancer causing compounds coming off the charred bits of meat and fat that inevitably get stuck on the grates.
If you use a wire bristled brush to clean the grates, then make sure you wipe the grates down with a damp cloth or a wad of damp paper towels after you have scrubbed them, and thoroughly check the grates for stray bristles.
3. Cook at lower temperatures and avoid flare ups
Cook at a lower temperature for longer to avoid the flare ups which produce some of the cancer causing compounds we are concerned about.
Make sure you have a spray bottle of water handy so you can quell those flare ups if they happen.
Another tactic is to cut your meat into smaller portions so it takes less time to cook through, thus reducing the amount of time it is exposed to smoke.
You may also want to line the grill with foil which has holes poked in it to provide a physical barrier, which will stop the flames and reduce the amount of smoke reaching your meat.
4. Include plenty of veggies when you grill
HCA’s and PAH’s don’t form when grilling fruit and veg.
Just like meat, the flavor in fruit and veg are amplified when grilled, so you can open up a world of new flavors when you start grilling them.
We all know that fruit and veg are packed with healthy nutrients which your body will thank you for. We are always being reminded how important it is to include more fruit and veg in our diet, so grilling might just be the way to do it.
5. Use a food thermometer to avoid the risk of food poisoning
The appearance of your meat from the outside is not a reliable way to judge if it is cooked properly. Especially on the grill, where the high temperature can burn the outside before the inside is heated to a safe level.
The best way to make sure your food has reached a sufficient internal temperature to kill any nasty bacteria such as e coli or salmonella is to use an instant read thermometer.
If you would like to know what temperature the meat must reach to be safe, check out this safe minimum food temperature chart put out by foodsafety.gov.
When using a food thermometer to check how hot your meat is, make sure you insert it into the thickest part of the meat and wait until you get an accurate reading.
6. Marinate meat can help avoid carcinogen formation
The American Institute for Cancer Research states that a simple marinade will reduce the amount of cancer causing compounds produced when grilling, as recent studies have shown.
And you don’t need to go crazy when creating a marinade. Olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and wine, beer and yoghurt are all great ingredients to start with when making a marinade.
Experiment with different herbs and spices, and don’t forget the basics like garlic, onion and ginger to liven things up.
Ingredients such as turmeric and rosemary can be added as part of a dry rub, which will add even more cancer fighting powers. Such ingredients have been shown to cut down the production of these cancer causing compounds even further.
Just be sure to practice good food hygiene when marinating, leaving the meat in the fridge while it soaks in those flavors, and being sure to discard any liquid the raw meat was marinating in. If you want to use some of the marinade to baste as you cook, set it aside before you sit the meat in it.
7. Flip food often
Make sure you flip your meat regularly. The National Cancer Institute recommends regular flipping, as studies have shown that flipping often has is another way to reduce the formation of HCA’s.
But before you get busy flipping your meat, remember to use a spatula or tongs instead of a fork. This will prevent fats and juices dripping out from the small holes the fork creates onto the heat source.
Gill without the guilt
Grilling can be a healthy way to cook if you implement a few changes. And who could argue that soaking your meat in a flavor packed marinade will not add loads of taste to your next meal!
By Joe Clements for SmokedBBQSource.