With the middle of August somehow already here, fans of open-flame cooking are right to embrace the last stretch of grilling season with as much fervor as possible. But is it possible to fire up the grill without flaring up the health risks?
By now, many of us have heard about the potentially harmful chemicals known as HCAs and PAHs that form when meat, fish and poultry are cooked at high temperatures. The good news is, a few basic practices — particularly ones that shorten cooking time and scale back on charred areas of food — can help reduce exposure. While you’re at it, adopting a few commonsense rules (like scrubbing those tongs and also marinading properly) will serve everyone well on the food safety front. Here’s a late-summer refresher course on healthy grilling practices.
Start with a Clean Slate (That Is, a Clean Grate)
In the heard-it-before-but-worth-repeating category: Be sure the grill, utensils, your hands and prep surfaces are kept squeaky-clean to limit the spread of bacteria. And brush the grill before (and after) each cooking session to reduce the build up of burnt gunk on your food.
Pick Your Protein
Opt for quick-cooking and lower-fat cuts of meat to prevent greasy drippings and a high-calorie meal. Chicken breast or thighs, pork chops and shrimp are sensible choices. Flank steak, top sirloin and 93-percent lean ground beef are decent picks on the beef front. (And don’t forget that vegetables make a fine addition to the grill grates as well.)
Make a Marinade
Marinating not only imparts flavor, it tenderizes protein and reduces the production of HCAs. Marinate foods in the fridge and make sure to discard anything that has come into contact with raw meats. Avoid making marinades that are overly oily; the greasy flare-ups will burn the outside of the meat before the inside is cooked properly.
Preheat Early and Often
No need to jack up the heat all the way on your grill, but it’s worthwhile to give the heat a head start. Heating the grill to the proper temperature will reduce cooking time and help seal in the juices.
Divide (Ingredients) and Conquer
Keep vegetables, breads, fruit and other ready-to-eat foods away from raw meats. Cook them in shifts or on opposite ends of the grill. Don’t forget about utensils and platters that come into contact with raw meat — keep those separate too.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.