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Keeping grilled meats healthy

Published: Thursday, May 15, 2014 11:18 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 15, 2014 12:06 p.m. CDT
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(Metro Creative Connection)
Grilled meats are a favorite throughout the season, but the National Cancer Institute recommends not overcooking them. Trimming fat and keeping meat six inches from the grill can prevent polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

We’re finally seeing more sunshine and less rain. It’s barbeque season! 

Grilling is a great low-fat cooking method, but the National Cancer Institute cautions that grilling meats at very high temperatures forms chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, that might increase cancer risk.

These compounds are formed when the juices and fat from grilled meats drip onto the fire or heat source, causing flames. The flames produce PAHs, which then adhere to the surface of the meat.

The good news is that you can cut your exposure to PAHs through better cooking techniques. These tips will keep grilled meat safely on your barbecue menu this summer.

PAHs are highest in the skin and fatty portions of meat, so trim visible fat and skin from meat before cooking. Marinate meats at least 30 minutes prior to cooking, using a mixture of vinegar, citrus juice or wine, a touch of olive oil if desired, and herbs and spices. 

Before grilling, pre-cook meat in the microwave, oven or stove to cut down time on the open flame. Use a thermometer to check for doneness. 

Adequate cooking is required to kill food borne germs in meat, but overcooking produces more PAHs. A thermometer will ensure meat isn’t undercooked or overcooked. Proper temperatures are 165 degrees for poultry, 160 degrees for ground meats, and 145 degrees for steaks, pork and seafood. Avoid eating any charred part of the meat if food is accidently overcooked.

As a side note — the National Cancer Institute notes that other high fat cooking methods, such as pan frying, can also promote the formation of PAHs. It’s best to avoid charred meat no matter what the cooking source. 

Keep food at least 6 inches from the heat source when grilling. Flip burgers and other grilled meats, such as brats and chicken breasts often. Keep a bottle filled with water near your barbecue to quickly prevent any flare-ups during grilling.

Simple Fajita Marinade

½ cup lime juice

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

2 garlic cloves

Combine ingredients and pour over chicken breasts or lean beef. Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours. Drain marinade and grill meat until proper internal temperature has been reached.

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