With Memorial Day come and gone, we are (un)officially inside summer, those days of soda and pretzels and beer, as the great Nat King Cole once celebrated in song. To Nat's grocery list we would add steaks and burgers for grilling, because what is summer without barbecue?
Just remember there is a right way, and a carcinogenic way, to grill.
Here's the situation: Rather than destroying the bad chemicals, as you would expect, grilling meat at a very high temperature allows the carcinogens heterocyclic amine (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to form – and in very large amounts, in fact. Well-done meat -- whether barbecued, pan fired or broiled on a regular basis – is 60 percent more likely to cook you up some pancreatic cancer.
Here are some tips to allow you to enjoy your summer barbecue without making your pancreas toast:
Pre-nuke your meat. Give your patties, flanks and chops a spin for a minute or two in your microwave, set at medium power. This little precaution can reduce HCAs by 90 percent. But don't forget to toss out the juice – that's where the HCAs reside.
Cook lower, and longer. The carcinogens begin to form at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, so be sure to grill your meats below that temperature. Those little thermometer-thingies Krazy-Glued to the outside of your propane GrillMaster 9000 aren't exactly known to be Swiss precision instruments, so invest a couple bucks in a real meat thermometer. Of course, the whole grilling time will be longer, but it's a summer barbecue, so what's your hurry?
Marinade is your friend. Spicy marinades can actually reduce HCA formation, so don't be bashful with that red pepper. And many other spices – thyme, sage and garlic, to name a few – can reduce the total amount of HCAs by 60 percent.
Alcohol is not just for your glass. The anti-oxidants in your red wine work wonders against the carcinogens, so be sure to include some in your marinade. A study done by the University of Portugal showed that by marinating beef in red wine for six hours before grilling, you can decrease the amount of two types of HCA carcinogens by 40 percent. For a third type of HCA, beer was more efficient at reducing its content than wine, cutting levels significantly in 4 hours.
Our favorite summer cooking tip? Grill vegetables! Barbecued vegetables are carcinogen-free at no matter what temperature you grill them, and taste great! If you think you are somehow shortchanging your inner carnivore, we suggest you make kebabs with a mix of both veggies and meats. When the final nutritional accounting is done, the less meat you eat, the better.