Clean Grilling is Good Grilling

Imagine it: early humankind, sitting around an open fire, grunting at each other, swatting at mosquitoes and waiting patiently for that...what would it be? A dodo? A hippo? A megaloceros? (Look it up) Anyway, there they were, hanging out, socializing, and waiting for whatever it was to cook up nice and juicy. Not much different from today, if you substitute in a sirloin steak or a hot dog.

New studies indicate that cooking food is actually what makes us "human" - it was that move from eating raw veggies to cooking meat that allowed us to evolve such a large brain. Sorry all my vegan and vegetarian friends and relatives, I am not making this up. In a nutshell, our brains needed an incredible amount of energy and cooked foods provided an essential calorie increase to feed that growing brain.

There is something about cooking over an open flame, in the great outdoors, that most definitely appeals to something primal in us; something wild, something dangerous, something just barely human. And that is why men love to commandeer the grill; its that just barely human part.

guide to healthy grilling

All that to say; we like to cook outdoors; we like to grill. And in this post-Neanderthal, post-enlightenment, post-modern age we like to do it in a healthy way.  So here is the 21st century man and woman's guide to healthy grilling.

1. Don't go for the burn. Grilling meat produces two compounds associated with cancer. I know, I know, everything gets associated with cancer sooner or later. But when you cook meat with very high heat, you can create HCAs - heterocyclic amines and their ugly cousins PAHs - polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. To reduce the risk of HCAs, precook some foods like ribs, bratwurst, etc. in nonfire heat; i.e. boil or bake them before you put them on the grill. This reduces the time the meat will spend over fire. Also trim all excess fat; when fat and juices drip down into the coals and fire erupts this creates PAHs. And finally, don't over-do the char. 

2. Prep it; prep it good. Marinating meats in lemon based or beer (the darker the better) based marinades inhibits the formation of PAH. Marinades containing certain herbs, including basil, mint, sage, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and thyme, all which contain powerful antioxidants, also protect your meats. Even a brief stint in a good marinade can reduce the production of carcinogens by over 90%.

3. Wrap it up. Relatively new to the market, grilling wraps provide extra protection and extra flavor for your grilled meats and seafood. These paper-thin sheets of cedar are soaked in water, wrapped around your cut of meat and secured with twine.

4. Clean it up. Keeping your grill clean will help to eliminate flare-ups; it will also keep you from ingesting disgusting grill goo and its related toxins. You should clean your grill grates every time you use your grill. To avoid using chemicals, follow these steps to keep your grill pristine:

  • Preheat your grill for 15 minutes
  • Scrape the grate with a wire grill brush
  • Apply vegetable oil to a paper-towel and rub it over the grate
Do an occasional deep clean and remove the grill grate completely; scrape out and discard all the carbonized debris from the bottom of the grill cook box and underneath the grill lid.

5. Nix the lighter fluid. Chimney starters are low cost and easy to use. No chemicals needed; just a match and a couple of pieces of crumpled paper. Recycled of course.

6. Use cleaner charcoal. If you are a charcoal griller, reduce your carbon footprint by buying charcoal made in the USA. Choose lump over briquettes and avoid "easy light" charcoal which is saturated with chemicals.

7. Use a grilling grate. Aluminum grill grates rest on top of the grill and help spread out the heat and reduce flare-ups. They come in all sizes, last forever(ish), and can be recycled.

8. Douse it. Keep a water-filled squirt bottle on hand to keep the flare-ups under control.

grill buying guide9. Consider an upgrade. If you are using a rusty old grill, maybe its time to get a new one. Gas grills burn cleaner than charcoal; air-tight, insulated grills are more efficient and help reduce carbon emissions. 
 
Here's to healthy grilling and millennia more of cooking outdoors. Let's hope we never evolve beyond fellowship around the fire. And if you are still wondering about that whole "we wouldn't have evolved into modern man without cooking meat" thing, check out related articles on these respected websites:
livescience.com; nationalgeographic.com; americanscientist.org; popsci.com; time.com.Save


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