While a few brave Canadians may venture outdoors through the dead of winter to fire up the grill, most of us wait for more reasonable outdoor temperatures. Then we don’t stop. Whether you grill year-round or if this is your season, it’s time to start thinking about smart grilling practices – both how and what you barbecue.
Grilling certainly beats frying for health because the fat in food drips down to yield leaner fare. However, those fat drippings can also lead to ferocious flames. The result can be somewhat charred and very smoky grilled food that likely contains significant amounts of potential cancer-causing compounds such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
You can lessen the amounts of these compounds and make these foods a safer choice for your family, especially over the long term.
Using marinades and herbs is more than just palate-pleasing. Research on grilled burgers showed that adding rosemary and oregano to the ground meat before cooking decreased the production and absorption of some potentially harmful chemicals when compared to eating unseasoned burgers.
Marinating food prior to grilling can also slash the amounts of cancer causing compounds. Scientists in Germany assessed the effects of marinades containing garlic, onion and lemon juice on the formation of HCAs and found that with increasing amounts of garlic, the HCA content was lessened.
Using marinades and spices also makes it easier to cut down on the amount of sodium in the meal as well.
Grilling offers a great opportunity to add variety to your menus. Think beyond hot dogs and burgers. For example, chicken or fish kebabs – skewers threaded with vegetables or fruits such as peppers and mangos – can be grilled alongside traditional favourites. It’s also fun for kids to customize their own combinations. Grill up a batch of extra vegetables (often MIA at barbecued meals). They make perfect leftovers to be used in sandwiches and salads the next day.
And don’t forget dessert. Grilled pineapple, apples and peaches are delicious right off the barbecue. Layer bananas with a dollop of butter and brown sugar and pack them in foil packets for a tempting finale.
Somehow when we cook outdoors, basic food handling techniques occasionally get stuck in the kitchen. When it comes to young children, pregnant women and the elderly, it’s even more critical to prevent foodborne illness. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice and author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide (Viking Canada). Visit rosieschwartz.com for more.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June/July 2014.