The official start of summer may have been nearly two weeks ago now. But for many of us, summer doesn’t REALLY start until we break out the grill for our July 4th celebrations.
And if that’s you, happy summer, my friend!
With barbecue season kicking off today, it’s the perfect time to discuss grilling safety. But burns and being careful around flames aren’t what I’m concerned about at the moment. Instead, I want to talk about avoiding serving up your meats with a side of carcinogens.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love a juicy steak hot off the grill as much as the next gal. But that flame-licked smoky flavor does come with a literal dark side.
Chargrilling produces two hazardous byproducts…
- heterocyclic amines (HCAs)
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
HCAs form when the meat reacts to high temperatures. PAHs form when fat and juices drip into the fire and start to smoke.
Both are bad news, with lab experiments linking them to a disturbing list of cancers.
Beware of barbecue smoke
It turns out PAHs can be far tougher to dodge than we realized.
Researchers recruited volunteers for a grilling study and divided them into two groups. Both groups were then exposed to different amounts of grilled food and levels of grill smoke.
When the researchers analyzed urine samples from the participants, their first finding wasn’t a big surprise. As expected, when they ate food fixed on the grill, they had the highest levels of PAH exposure.
But what was uncovered next was a surprising twist. The next most common source of PAH exposure was expected to be from inhaling the smoke off the grill. But instead, it was from exposure through the skin.
The source turned out to be what the volunteers were wearing. Their clothes absorbed the grill smoke and continued to transfer the carcinogenic PAHs long after the smoke was gone.
If you’re the grillmaster today, plan on changing your clothing immediately after you’ve finished flipping your last burger or chicken breast. And if you’re a guest, be sure to steer clear of the smoking grill.
Dial down the carcinogens when you grill
Of course, staying away from grill smoke isn’t the only way you can make your fourth of July cookout safer.
Declare freedom from BBQ-linked carcinogens today with four MORE safer grilling hacks.
1. Marinate meats:
It turns out marinades don’t just add delicious flavor to your meats. They can make them FAR safer too. Some sources say marinades can cut the carcinogens in your grilled food by 90 percent or more. The antioxidants in marinades, plus their natural cooling effects, are likely behind the drastic drop. I suggest making your own using olive oil, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire, garlic, a dash of brown sugar, and other herbs and spices such as basil, oregano, thyme, chili powder, cumin, and paprika.
2. Clean it up:
The char that builds up on your grill grates is loaded with carcinogens. The cleaner the grill is, the better off you’ll be. So build in some extra time to clean the grates before you start cooking. And consider using aluminum foil to cut back on the drips and charring in the future.
3. Keep it moving:
No matter what’s on the menu today, if it goes on the grill, you should plan to keep it moving. Flipping your food more often can help reduce the carcinogens that build up during high-heat cooking.
4. Embrace the pre-cook:
Since PAHs are formed when dripping juices and fats hit the flames on your grill, pre-cooking is your friend. Try cooking your meats in the oven or a skillet BEFORE heading out to the grill. Finishing the meat on the grill will add that delicious smoky flavor you’re after while cutting way back on the carcinogens.
Plus, you get the added bonus of spending MORE time socializing and LESS time sweating it out over a hot grill.
Still deciding on the menu for today’s cookout? Find out the gross reason why no matter WHAT meat you choose you should make sure it’s organic.
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