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How safe is barbecued food?

publication date: Jun 29, 2010
author/source: Kerry Torrens
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With the 4th of July coming up you may be planning to fire up the barbie but just how safe is eating barbecued food?

Many of us associate barbeques with the less healthy options of red or processed meats such as steaks, sausages and burgers but this doesn’t have to be the case - chicken, fish, vegetables and even fruit can be delicious cooked this way. Nevertheless, you’d be right to exercise some caution when it comes to cooking over a high direct heat.

The extreme temperatures which are typical of chargrilling produce potentially dangerous compounds in the food. For those of you interested in ‘the science bit’ these include heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Such compounds are formed when meat is over-cooked or when fat drips onto the charcoals creating smoke which is then carried into the food. Studies suggest that a high intake of meat and fish cooked in this way may increase the risk of a number of cancers including prostate and breast cancer.

So what can you do to minimise the health risks while still enjoying the pleasure and delicious taste of cooking in the open air? Here are our Beyond Baked Beans top tips!

* Light the barbeque in plenty of time and make sure the charcoals are glowing red, with a powdery grey surface before you start to cook.

* Vary your ingredients to include lean meats such as poultry, fish or prawns as well as vegetarian options such as tofu. Choose the leaner and thinner cuts of meat and remove any excess fat before cooking.

* Marinate your meat before barbequing, this is a tasty way of protecting the food from extreme temperatures. Useful marinade ingredients include vinegar and citrus fruit juices (I’ll be putting up a couple of marinade recipes later this week FB)

* Cut meat into smaller pieces and cook on skewers with vegetables or fruit. This helps shorten cooking times and minimises exposure to the flames whilst the fruits or vegetables keep the meat moist. Try cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers, courgettes as well as pineapple chunks or apple slices.

* Reduce cooking time by pre-cooking the food in the oven or microwave first. Just two minutes in the microwave before grilling may reduce the number of these harmful compounds by as much as 90 per cent. Alternatively keep the heat down on the grill and turn the food more frequently.

* Avoid the flames touching the food and cook at lower temperatures for a longer period of time. Turn the food gently to prevent fat dripping onto the hot charcoal.

* Accompany your barbequed meat with foods which supply protective phyto-nutrients that help support your body’s natural detoxification processes. These include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower as well as those from the allium family which includes onions, garlic, spring onions and chives. Another useful tip is to include foods rich in vitamin C such as lemon juice, peppers and tomatoes.

* Although overcooking meat may be dangerous it’s just as important to make sure you don't undercook it. Be particularly careful to ensure that chicken and minced-meat products, such as burgers and sausages, are piping hot all the way through and that any juices run clear.

* And finally don’t forget to clean the grill thoroughly after use to remove all traces of oil and grease. An ideal way to do this is to turn up the heat on the barbeque and close the lid for about 10 minutes.


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