Grilling Safety
Healthier Outdoor Cooking

Grilling Safety

The smell of memories

Last week, we were out for a walk on one of those beautiful evenings that we relish here in the North where winters are long. Wafting on the breeze, was the fragrance of a charcoal fire and something cooking, bringing with it reminders of happy summer days and festive occasions.

I know that things have changed, and nowadays, many people have a gas grill in their backyard, and grilling is more commonplace, but for us, growing up in the sixties, cooking out was a very special event, whether it was roasting “wienies” and marshmallows over a campfire on a family vacation, or hamburgers and steaks on the grill at a backyard family reunion.

Grilling meat produces toxic chemicals

In spite of the happy associations, and with the increased popularity of cooking out, it is important to understand that there are some health risks associated with this cooking method. This is because the combination of animal protein and high heat produces certain chemicals that may cause inflammation, damage to DNA and therefore, a higher risk of developing cancer and other diseases. These risks seem to increase as we age, since our bodies are less able to deal with these toxins.

Keep in mind that choosing to grill fresh meat as opposed to hot dogs and brats will help reduce the risks associated with all processed meats, regardless of how they are prepared.   

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified processed meat as a carcinogen, something that causes cancer. 

According to the World Health Organization, "processed meat" includes hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. It refers to meat that has been treated in some way to preserve or flavor it. Processes include salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking."

Grilling safety tips

It would naturally be unpopular to suggest that you give up grilling altogether, but there are some things you can do to minimize the health risk.

--Grill at lower temperatures by waiting until your charcoal is a bed of hot embers or by turning the gas down.

--Partially cook the meat in the oven or on the stove, to shorten time on the grill to produce fewer carcinogens.

--Marinate meat before grilling to decrease cooking time and reduce formation of toxic chemicals, particularly with acidic marinades, such as those with lemon juice or vinegar.

--Turn meat often on the grill using a tongs rather than a fork, since poking the meat may cause dripping fat and flare-ups, which can deposit carcinogens onto the meat.

--Use a cedar plank or elevated rack to move meat farther away from the fire.

--Use a meat thermometer to know when meat is thoroughly cooked, but not overcooked, since the longer you cook the meat, the more toxins will form.

--Grill leaner cuts of meat that will drip less and cause less charring, and don’t eat the charred portions of grilled meat as they contain a known carcinogen.

--Grill more vegetables, and even fruits, with your meat, since they don’t produce the same toxic chemicals that grilling meat does. As an added bonus, fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, which help reduce the effects of those toxins.

--Limit grilling to special occasions such as picnics or backyard barbecue parties, rather than making it a regular cooking method.

--Keep your grill clean, since carcinogenic residue can build up and be deposited on the food

Not so much about the food

As we were walking along enjoying the evocative smell from our neighbor's grill, we tried to remember the first time we had ever eaten food cooked outdoors. We realized that the fun we remembered was as much about the setting, the occasion and the people we were with, as it was about the way the food was cooked.

By incorporating these grilling safety tips, you can still make your outdoor cooking occasions special, while at the same time protecting the health of your family and friends.

Eat and be healthy with my warmest regards,

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