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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Healthy Grilling Tips and Charcoal Choices

When it comes to grilling, charcoal briquettes have some advantages. They burn longer and maintain a consistent temperature. But they also take longer to light and may require the addition of lighter fluid. Because they're made with binding agents like sodium nitrate, they release chemicals into the air that permeates your food. And they produce a lot of ash.

Avoid unnecessary exposure to chemicals and air-borne particulate matter by using natural charcoal instead. It's made from real hardwood, it doesn't contain any additives, and it produces little ash. Natural "lump" charcoal is more expensive than briquettes and it does burn faster, but it also lights quicker and burns hotter, so it's ready to use sooner. And it's as close to cooking over wood as you can get.

Natural lump charcoal lends a smokey flavor to foods without the chemical aftertaste, but it's still important to exercise caution. Grilled and smoked meats can contain cancer-causing compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

HCAs are formed when amino acids in meat react with creatine in the presence of high heat (temperatures above 300F, according to the National Cancer Institute) while PAHs are formed when fats and juices from meats drip over an open fire and flame up. These carcinogens are most concentrated in charred meats but can also be found in well-done meats, smoked meats, cigarette smoke, air pollution and unvented fires.

If you liked charred and smoked foods, grill vegetables instead of meats. Plants don't produce the carcinogens that meats do, so you can grill them over an open flame if you wish.

If you do grill meat, follow these 6 tips to reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds: 

1. Cook meats low and slow (not above 300F).

2. Don't char meats.

3. Choose leaner cuts of meat that cook quickly and drip less fat.

4.  Prevent juices and fat from dripping onto hot coals by cooking meat near hot coals but not directly over them.

5.  Consider grilling meats on a sheet of aluminum foil to shield them from smoke and prevent them from coming into contact with flames.

6.  Marinate, rub, and mix meats before you grill them.

Studies show that garlic, onions, virgin olive oil, rosemary, beer, and wine are all effective at decreasing the formation of PAHs and/or HCAs in meats.

  • Marinate meats for at least 6 hours in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, red wine, crushed garlic, chopped onions, and fresh rosemary.
  • Rub meats with a mixture of crushed garlic, finely chopped fresh (or dried, ground) rosemary, and extra virgin olive oil, then allow them to sit for a few hours or overnight before grilling.
  • If you're making burgers, mix in some crushed or minced garlic, grated onion, and finely chopped or ground rosemary, then brush them with extra virgin olive just before you grill them.

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