All across the Lehigh Valley, homeowners, renters, family, friends, and neighbors are giving their grills a heavy-duty workout, barbecuing everything from steaks, burgers, hot dogs, veggies, kabobs, fish, and so much more.  During all of that fun and food, have you stopped to think about the health factors of grilling?  There are better ways than other’s to make sure you are providing the healthiest and safest grilled food, while making sure the taste is not left behind!

What many people may not know is that grilling can be harmful to your health if certain precautions are not taken.  Charred and blackened meat can cause types of stomach and colon cancers, due to high grill temperatures that break down amino acids in the meat.  A cancer-causing compound called heterocyclic amine forms when high temperatures break down an amino acid (creatine) inside meat.

“The greater the charring, the higher the risk of stomach and colon cancers,” says Keecha Harris, an adjunct professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Healthy Tips

  • Clean the grill first.  The first step to take to avoid these harmful effects of grilling meat is to clean your grill before every use.  Using a grill brush or grill stone will remove the already charred remnants from last night’s grilling feast, allowing for a clean cooking space.
  • Marinate any meat for at least 40 minutes prior to grilling.  For extra flavor, marinate the day before!  Marinates can be just about anything that will coat the meat and add flavor.
  • Lemon juice, fruit, honey, or olive oil can protect grilled meat from cancer-causing buildup, says Harris.  And lightly basting the meat just before it’s done can also reduce charring.
  • When fat drips onto the coals, flare-ups can char what you’re cooking.  To avoid this, choose leaner cuts of meat and remove the skin from chicken or fish before you put it on the grill.
  • Be gentle.  Use tongs or a spatula to flip your steak; if you pierce the meat with a fork, juices run out, hit the coals, and you can have a flare-up.
  • Cut it up.  Smaller pieces of meat cook faster, making it less likely they’ll burn.
  • Check the temperature.  Raw meat contains harmful bacteria like E. coli.  Cook hamburger and pork to at least 160 degrees, and steak and fowl to 145 degrees.

Other foods like vegetables cooked on the grill are not subject to the same effects of grilling meats because they do not contain the amino acids.  If your child gives you a hard time when trying to get them to eat veggies, try making them on the grill.  The difference in taste could be enough to get your children to actually like them!

What are your favorite foods to barbecue in the summertime?  Do you have additional health tips not mentioned here?

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