How to grill your food safely

Barbequing or grilling has been a popular method of cooking for thousands of years. Grilled foods retain a lot of flavour and cooking them doesn't require added fats. Vegetables cook quickly on the grill with little loss of moisture or vitamins. Here are some tips on how to grill your food safely.

How to grill your food safely

Caveman cooking

Involving direct exposure of food to the source of heat, whatever you call it — grilling, barbequing or broiling — is the modern and controlled version of man's oldest culinary technique — namely, roasting over an open fire.

  • The intense flavour of grilled food results from the numerous chemical reactions that take place when a food surface is subjected to very high temperatures.
  • Unfortunately, the high heat that causes the appealing caramelization of browning has a less desirable aspect: the outside of the food may become unpalatably charred before the inside is cooked through.
  • Grilling is best reservedmfor quick-cooking foods, such as fish and the thinner cuts of meat and poultry.

The downside of grilling

  • At grilling temperatures, cancer-causing substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons form when the fat from meat drips onto hot coals and are deposited onto the food through smoke.
  • You can minimize exposure to the fumes by partly baking or parboiling the food, then finishing it off with a few minutes on the grill to achieve a crusty exterior and succulent interior.
  • Choose lean cuts, and trim all visible fat from meat.
  • Whether you're using an oven broiler or an outdoor grill, place a broiling pan to catch melted fat under a spatterproof metal shield.
  • Heating meat, poultry and fish to a high temperature also creates substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been linked to cancer in animals. This may be one reason that frequent consumption of red meat has been linked, at least in some studies, with an increased risk for certain cancers, such as colon cancer.
  • Other potentially toxic compounds are generated by chemical reactions that take place when foods are cooked at high tem-peratures.
  • Carcinogenic nitrosamines form when foods that contain nitrite as a preservative are heated.

A warning about marinades

  • Marinades can add exotic flavours.
  • A small amount of honey or other sugar in the marinade will hasten the caramelization process because simple sugars brown at lower temperatures than proteins and starchy foods do.
  • Don't make the mistake of assuming that a marinated meat is cooked just because the outside is browned.
  • Despite the instructions in many recipes to marinate for hours, there's nothing to be gained from prolonged marination. The marinade cannot penetrate past the surface of the meat, no matter how long the meat is soaked.

Minimizing your risk

Charcoal-grilling foods, especially fatty meats, can create compounds that are potentially carcinogenic. To minimize the risks, take the following steps:

1. Avoid flare-ups, since burning juice or fat can produce harmful smoke. If smoke from dripping fat is too heavy, move the food to another section of the grill, rotate the grill or reduce the heat.

2. Potentially harmful bacteria are killed when the meat is adequately cooked, but can survive in meat that is rare. Always cook hamburgers until the juice runs clear and be sure not to place cooked hamburgers back on the same platter that held raw meat.

3. Cover the grill with punctured aluminum foil before you cook. The foil protects the food from the smoke and fire.

4. Keep meat portions small so they don't have to spend as long on the grill.

5. Defrost frozen meats before grilling. In trying to get the frozen meat cooked, there is a tendency to burn the surface.

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