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Grilling: Food Synergy to the Rescue!

Terry Passano, RDN, LDN, CLT – University Dietitian

We all love to grill, don’t we? It’s a summer tradition. Let the flames begin! Sometimes those coals get out of hand causing too much char and our food is burnt and black. We know that charred meat poses possible health risks; it may be carcinogenic. But all is not lost. There are ways to make the grill healthy again. How we grill is as important as what we grill when it comes to our health. Because how you grill can either increase or decrease potential carcinogens at the grill.

What’s The Problem? The combination of meat and intense heat produces heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals form when proteins and sugars react with high heat. HCAs are found in the burned, crispy outer layer of the cooked meat, and PAHs come from the smoke and fire caused by the fat dripping on the hot surface.

How Do We Fix It?

  • Marinate for at least one hour. This lowers the formation of HCAs and PAHs. Rosemary is powerful due to its antioxidants. The more rosemary, the more significant the reduction in HCAs. Other effective marinades include Caribbean spices and a combination of lemon juice, garlic and onion.
  • Keep the flame away from the meat! Wait for those coals to flame off and keep the gas grill flames down. When searing meat in a pan, lower the temperature.
  • Cook over indirect heat. Use hotter parts of the grill to brown and move meats to lower heat for lower intensity cooking.
  • Avoid overcooking. Keep a close eye on the grill and use a food thermometer. Try partially cooking meats before grilling. The reduced time on the grill can reduce HCA formation while still giving that great grill flavor.
  • After getting a good sear on your grilled meat, turn it continuously. This can substantially reduce HCA formation compared to less flipping.
  • Remove the charred part of the meat before eating.
  • Grill vegetables and fruits. They are delicious and don’t form HCAs and PAHs. Balance your plate with colorful grilled vegetables and fruits!