On the menu: Some like it hot in the great outdoors
It's not just what you cook on the barbecue that matters - how you cook it plays a big part too
Tikka marinade and minty yoghurt marinade. Photographs: Brenda Fitzsimons
Minty yoghurt marinade
With more glorious weather promised, alfresco dining is alluring to say the least. The aromas wafting from barbecues around the country is the best summer smell, and making just a few adjustments to your grilling technique can be good for your health too.
Not only is the quality of your meat important, but so too is how you barbecue. Research suggests that cooking meats at very high temperatures creates chemicals that can potentially increase our risk of developing cancer.
Certain compounds formed during the cooking of meat, such as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), have been identified as possible human carcinogens.
HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and creatine (a natural compound found in muscle meats) react at very high temperatures.
Barbecuing meat provides the right conditions and more HCAs are produced the longer and hotter the meat cooks. HCAs are mutagens and they can bind directly to DNA, promoting cancerous cells. Studies have linked frequent ingestion of HCAs to an increased risk of pancreatic and colorectal cancers.
A study published in Carcinogenesis (2012) from the University of Southern California (USC) found that cooking red meats at high temperatures may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer by as much as 40 per cent.
This related to men who ate more than 2.5 weekly servings of red meat cooked at high temperatures.
“The observations from this study alone are not enough to make any health recommendations, but given the few modifiable risk factors known for prostate cancer, the understanding of dietary factors and cooking methods are of high public health relevance,” according to Mariana Stern, associate professor of preventive medicine at USC.
Another cancer-causing agent, PAH, is produced when fat drips from the meat onto the flames and produces smoke. The PAH-filled smoke rises and coats the food, contaminating it. PAH also appears to be created when flames touch the meat itself, charring it.
That said, there is no need to give up barbecued food. Some people cook inside at lower temperatures and then “finish off” their protein-rich foods on the barbecue. You can also use any or all of the following tips to minimise the formation of carcinogens.
Clean your barbecue grill: Scrubbing down the grill before or after you barbecues can minimise the build-up of carcinogens.
Size matters: Select smaller cuts of meat to speed up the cooking time and thereby reduce exposure. So, instead of grilling a whole steak, make kebabs more frequently.
Reduce fat: Avoid fat dripping from fatty meats. Barbecuing leaner meats, poultry and fish means less smoky PAHs. Wrapping meats in tinfoil helps too.
Marinate your meat: Kansas State University researchers found that marinated steaks contained 57-88 per cent less carcinogens. The marinade may create a protective barrier between the meat’s proteins and the heat of the barbecue. The other theory is that the antioxidants in marinades made with olive oil and lemon juice might decrease the HCAs. Choose marinades without lots of sugar, as thicker marinades tend to char.