Firing up the barbecue this weekend? Barbecues are one of the healthiest meals on hot days but not if you're serving a charred snag (sausage/hot dog) or a burnt chop.
When you barbecue, high heat is generated from the flames. This high heat on meat, poultry and fish creates potential carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds) called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). If you see charring, it's an indication that HCAs are present.
Other carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are deposited on meat from the smoke that rises when fat drips onto the hot coals (or any heat source).
There's been a suspicion that meat is linked to colo-rectal cancer for some years now but it seems that the link is only there if the meat is charred or it's processed/preserved.
And this is important. Colo-rectal cancer is the commonest cancer in Australia, claiming over 12 000 new cases each year. So here are my top 10 tips for a healthier barbecue:
- Choose lean cuts and trim any visible fat so that less fat drips during cooking.
- Marinate meat, even briefly, before you grill it. This can decrease HCAs by more than 90%. Use any combination of oil, honey, brown sugar, vinegar, red wine, lemon or orange juice, beer or cider, mustard, herbs or and spices. We're fond of garlic, rosemary, lemon and olive oil or red wine, mustard and thyme.
- Precook in the microwave or in the oven, then finish on the grill.
Once you're cooking:
- Avoid BBQs over open fires or coals where the fat drips onto the hot flames.
- Wait until the heat has died down or turn the gas down before cooking.
- Try not to cook thick steaks as they end up burnt on the outside by the time they're cooked in the middle. Thinner steaks or small pieces (like kebabs) cook faster.
- Don't cook your meat to well-done - cook rare or medium-rare.
- If you still end up with a charred piece, cut or scrape off any charred bits.
- Limit processed meat like sausages or bacon. Buy fresh sausages from the butcher without preservatives.
- Add lots of salad or vegetables like grilled tomato, mushrooms and onions, eggplant slices or corn on the cob - all these help counter any carcinogens.
Kitchen vs barbecue
Cooking in the kitchen can also produce HCAs if you cook by pan-frying and grilling at high temperatures. Instead choose poaching, microwaving, stewing and roasting where possible.