Safe grilling during the summer season


We have had some beautiful sunny weather here in Ireland recently, and that means the barbecue comes out of retirement for the first time since last summer. Nothing says summer quite like that wonderful smoky aroma and the delicious taste of burgers, chicken or steak grilling outdoors. However, without wanting to rain on the summer parade too much, a timely word of caution via Rallie McAllister at Green Valley News and Sun.

Before you toss the steaks and burgers on the barbie, you might want to turn down the heat.
If you’re a seasoned backyard chef, you’re probably well aware of the danger of undercooking meat. It may come as a surprise, but eating meat that has been overcooked on the grill can be just as hazardous to your health.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health recently reported that consumption of well-done meat prepared by frying, grilling and barbecuing can create carcinogens that are not formed when the same types of meat are baked or stewed. The findings were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting 2009.

In a study of more than 60,000 participants, the University of Minnesota scientists analyzed data concerning meat intake and cooking methods. Participants were asked how they preferred their meat prepared, with choices ranging from rare to well-done.

Over a period of nine years, 208 new cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed among study participants. Researchers found that participants who typically consumed steak prepared well-done were nearly 60 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who preferred steak prepared rare or medium-rare.

Earlier research has shown that consuming any type of meat that is overcooked, burnt or charred can increase the risk of developing cancer of the breast, colon, stomach and prostate. High-temperature cooking can transform amino acids and other natural substances in meat into heterocyclic amines (HCAs) -— compounds that are known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.


You can reduce HCA formation in the meat you prepare by lowering the cooking temperature. Whether you grill, pan-fry or oven-roast meats, it’s best to cook at temperatures below 325 degrees, the surface temperature at which HCAs begin to form.
If you’re interested in reducing HCA formation in grilled foods, you can start by microwaving meat for a few minutes at a medium setting and patting the meat dry ahead of time. Although microwaving meat and removing excess fat prior to grilling can help reduce HCA formation, this practice tends to make some cuts a little less tender.

Flipping burgers and meat often — at least once a minute — is another way to reduce HCA formation. It’s also important to avoid cooking meat directly over flames.

When excess fat in meat drips onto charcoal briquettes or gas burners, it creates flare-ups that contribute to HCA formation. To avoid setting your food aflame, push briquettes to the sides of a charcoal grill or turn off one burner of a gas grill.

Since char and ash contain HCAs and other carcinogens, it’s a good idea to trim away any meat that is blackened or burnt before you dig in.

One of the tastiest ways to reduce HCA formation in grilled and cooked meat is to marinate it ahead of time. Marinades that include cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and a sprinkling of spices can reduce HCA formation by as much as 99 percent in meat grilled for 10 to 40 minutes.

One popular spice, rosemary, has proven benefits as a cancer-preventing agent. Researchers at Kansas State University discovered that when small amounts of rosemary were applied to hamburger patties prior to grilling, the formation of HCA was reduced by 30 percent to 100 percent.

Natural antioxidant compounds in rosemary were found to block HCA formation during heating. Basil, mint, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, garlic and thyme can also reduce the production of cancer-causing compounds during cooking.

Honey is an excellent marinade ingredient. Not only does it provide great taste and promote proper browning and glaze formation, it also blocks the production of HCAs and other carcinogens during grilling.

While you definitely want to avoid charring your chicken and blackening your burgers, it’s important to cook meat sufficiently to kill any disease-causing bacteria. It’s always wise to use a meat thermometer to make sure your grilled foods reach the appropriate temperature.

The same spices that inhibit the formation of cancer-causing HCAs also kill many types of bacteria responsible for food-borne illnesses. Biologists at Cornell University found that garlic, allspice, oregano, thyme, tarragon and cinnamon are capable of destroying more than 80 percent of bacterial invaders.

If you’re a chef in charge of outdoor cooking, remember that grilled foods can be safer and tastier when you turn down the heat and pour on the spices.