The key to grilling healthy proteins and vegetables is to avoid burning foods to steer clear of the carcinogens that follow suit.
There are two types of potential carcinogens that can result from grilling: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs are produced when muscle meats are charred, which can also happen when broiling, pan-searing or cooking on an indoor grill. PAHs don’t just affect meats, but anything on your grill that is exposed to excess dark smoke when fats from meats or marinades hit the flames.
All of this might sound a little scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Before you toss out your tongs, here are my top tips for perfectly safe and healthy grilling.
1. Turn Down The Heat
Repress your primal instincts to crank up the heat to high and cook over big flames. Grill on medium heat or lower to avoid flare-ups, burning and charring.
2. Go Meatless
HCAs are only formed with muscle meats, so choosing meatless options such as eggplant, zucchini, cauliflower or tofu will eliminate this compound entirely.
3. Be A Firefighter
Have a spray bottle of water on hand when grilling to douse excess flames and flare-ups.
4. Marinate Meats
Marinating meats for 30 minutes to 3 hours in citrus-based marinades with antioxidant-rich flavoring agents such as red chile and cinnamon, or rosemary, thyme and garlic, helps reduce HCA formation.
5. Keep It Clean
After grilling, be sure to scrape excess food and charred bits off the grill. Turn off the grill and let cool, then wipe grates clean and grease well. This prevents those potentially carcinogenic burnt bits from transferring to your food the next time you use your grill.
6. Small Packages
Smaller pieces of meat will cook faster, reducing the chances of charring. Choose kebabs and meat skewers and thinner cuts of meats or pounded out chicken breast.
7. Grill Indirectly
Your grill is very versatile! Instead of cooking directly on the grates, try using a cast iron griddle on top of your grill. If you don't have a griddle on top of your grill. If you don't have a griddle, another trick is to turn your grill into an oven: Turn off one side of the grill, close the lid and cook meats on the cold side of the grill to avoid direct flames, charring and smoke.
8. Choose Fish
Choosing lean meats is already part of our CE guidelines, but the best option to protect yourself from HCAs is to opt for lean varieties of fish. Fish cooks faster and contains no visible fat that could otherwise cause flare-ups.
9. Don't Cry Over Charred Meat
After following these guidelines and char still forms (or if presented with a piece of charred meat at a barbecue), simply trim off and discard charred bits on the outside - problem solved!
10. Trim The Fat
CE guidelines recommend trimming excess fat on meats to reduce calories, but did you know that this also helps keep carcinogens at bay? Trimming excess fat helps reduce flare-ups and char.
11. Flip Out
This goes against all my training as a chef, however, flipping meats once a minute or so instead of just turning once during cooking helps prevent the formation of char on the outside from the grates or blackening from flare-ups.