Healthy Recipes

Hot Tips for Grilling

Hot Tips for Grilling

By Linda Mack, M.S., RDN, LD
WellStar West Georgia Medical Center's director of Food and Nutrition Services

Jefferson may not have included it in the Declaration of Independence, but grilling outside on July Fourth is mandatory. Somewhere in the original documents written by our founding fathers, there is a statement to the effect that, “Henceforth, on the fourth day of July each year, all citizens of this new country will set off fireworks and eat BBQ to celebrate the birth of this Great Nation.”

Not being one to argue with tradition or the founding fathers, my mission is to help people eat grilled foods safely and to enjoy the day without getting the 24-hour flu, better known as food poisoning. And then there are those pesky reports that grilled meat may cause cancer.

So how can we enjoy the required BBQ without worry?

First of all, use safe food handling tips to make sure the Brunswick stew, and everything else, doesn’t become salmonella soup. The following tips are recommended for cooking both inside and out to prevent food poisoning:

  • Avoid cross contamination by thoroughly washing everything that comes in contact with raw meat. Platters, tongs, forks, cutting boards and your hands all should be washed in hot soapy water and rinsed for at least 30 seconds once they have come in contact with raw meat. Always use a clean platter for cooked meat.
  • Keep foods cold until they are to be cooked, then keep them hot. Hold cooked meats in the oven, if necessary, to keep them above 140 degrees until they are served. Leftovers should be refrigerated within four hours. I try to get them in the fridge within two hours or less.
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure meats are cooked to a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Hamburgers and hot dogs should be cooked to 155 degrees, chicken and poultry should reach 165 degrees, and steak can range from 145 degrees to 170 degrees. Check the internal temperature by sliding the thermometer tip deep into the center of the muscle without touching bone.
  • Thaw and marinate meats in the refrigerator; discard leftover marinade. If you want to brush marinade on meats while grilling, set a portion aside before adding the raw meat to the remainder.

As for grilled meats causing cancer, the answer remains unclear. As with any carcinogen or cancer causing substance, the amount ingested may be related to the risk.

According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, meats that have been cooked to a high temperature cause a compound called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to be formed. The higher the temperature at which the meat is cooked and the longer the cooking time, the greater the number of HCAs. Another substance, called polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is found in the charred parts of meat and in the smoke from juices and fat dripping on barbecue coals or stones. Both PAHs and HCAs have been linked to cancer in laboratory rats, but the link to human cancers has not been confirmed.

Reduce the cancer risk associated with grilling meats by:

1. Clean the grill prior to using it to remove charred bits of meat.

2. Marinate meats. Thin marinades rather than thick sauces reduce the risks associated with HCAs. Some studies indicate marinating meats for as little as 10 minutes can reduce the risk of cancer.

3. Use fruit juice as the base for marinades. Fruit juices add the extra protection of powerful antioxidants that fight cancers.

4. Avoid flare-ups that char meat and cause harmful smoke. Use lean cuts of meat and trim visible fat before cooking. Do not eat the charred parts.

5. Drink brewed iced tea at your cookout. Brewed tea helps detoxify HCAs.

Eating a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides valuable antioxidants to fight cancer and helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, gallbladder disease, gou, and a host of other problems. Grilling vegetables adds the wonderful BBQ taste without the concerns associated with HCAs and PAHs.

To grill vegetables, slice carrots, summer squash, onion, peppers, eggplant or anything else you like into large enough pieces that they don’t fall through the grill. Brush them with some olive oil, season to taste, then place on the grill. Cooking times vary depending on the density of the vegetable, but most vegetables are done in 30 minutes or less.

It is your patriotic duty to have a wonderful Fourth of July with family, friends and a backyard cookout. Have fun and be safe!