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Sunday 21 September 2014

Step away from the barbecue... until you've digested our guide

Rozanne Stevens

Published 15/07/2014 | 02:30

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Rozanne Stevens

Summer is here and that means dining al fresco. With research however indicating that barbecuing can generate potentially cancer-causing compounds, it's well worth adjusting how we use this method of cooking, to achieve healthier, safer, yet still tasty, barbecue meals. Rozanne Stevens tells us how...

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I LOVE a barbecue or, as we call it in South Africa, a 'braai'. I love it so much that I wrote an award winning book on it. So it alarms me and concerns me when I read about all the carcinogenic compounds that are formed when barbecuing.

But I won't let that deter me! As we say in Afrikaans: 'n boer maak 'n plan'. Roughly translated as a 'farmer makes a plan'. So read on for ways to combat these carcinogens and make your barbecues safer and healthier this summer.

To fill you in on the negatives we're trying to tackle here, scientists have discovered two types of carcinogens that are formed when you barbecue meat. The first type, called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form when the meat begins to char. The second type, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) accumulate when the smoke rises from the coals onto the meat. So our aim is to protect the meat itself and also to reduce the amount of smoke.

Choose lean cuts of meat

If you're like me, you love the crispy fat on barbecued meat, especially lamb chops. Just the smell of lamb chops grilling makes me salivate. But, unfortunately, the fat dripping from the meat onto hot coals or a barbecue element, produces clouds of smoke full of PAHs.

According to the National Cancer Institute, these are associated with colorectal and pancreatic cancer. Yikes! So trim the fat and read on for more tips on safe grilling.

Don't stab your sausages

This is a common Irish practice during barbecuing. Vigorously stabbing the sausages as they cook on the grill, causing all the fat to drip out. Resulting in a dry sausage and also creating billowing clouds of PAHs.

Pull up a chair. Listen closely. I'm going to teach you how to cook the best barbecued sausages you've ever had. In a large pot, combine two litres of chicken stock and one bottle of cider. Add one roughly chopped onion, a bay leaf and six peppercorns. Bring to a boil with the lid on, then plop in a dozen large pork sausages. You can cook more sausages in batches if you need to.

Poach the sausages with the lid on at a medium simmer for 12 minutes. Remove, pat dry, lightly oil and grill until nicely browned. You're welcome.

Marinade your meat with herbs and spices

Marinating your meat with herbs and spices can reduce carcinogens by up to 88% in comparison to unmarinated meat. Herbs and spices contain concentrated amounts of antioxidants that can help protect your food from the carcinogens created by barbecuing. They work by preventing the formation of HCAs during the cooking process.

You can use fresh or dried herbs and spices, or a mixture of both. The most protective herbs and spices are: thyme, rosemary, chilli, black pepper, allspice and chives.

Make up a double quantity and use half to marinade the meat for at least half an hour, and use the rest for basting during cooking. You can also use herbs and spices directly onto meat as a spice rub.

Choose the right oil

This is one of my pet subjects – using the right culinary oil for the right job. All fats and oils have different characteristics. One of which is the temperature at which they start to burn, called the 'smoke point'.

Once an oil starts burning, it produces harmful compounds. My number one favourite oil to grill with is grape seed oil. This pale, mild tasting oil has a very high smoke point so is ideal for grilling. It can be used in marinades, to oil meat and veggies directly and even to oil your grill to make it non stick.

Secondly, like red wine, it is super concentrated in antioxidants that will protect your food from forming carcinogenic compounds.

Other options would be sunflower oil and a very light olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil burns at medium temperatures, so isn't suitable for grilling.

Par-cook your food

I'm not a fan of microwaves but they have their use in barbecues, and not just to prevent the pink-middle sausage or raw chicken thigh. Microwaving food for two minutes before grilling, can reduce HCA levels by up to 90pc!

Less time on the grill means less carcinogens, plus the partially cooked food won't react as much to cause the dangerous compounds. For hard veggies such a sweet potatoes, I like to steam them before grilling. And certainly chicken pieces on the bone or a spatchcock chicken benefits from par cooking, then finishing it off on the grill for those lovely grill marks.

I like to poach my chicken in apple juice, then grill it. Super juicy and tender chicken!

Stop smoking

Not cigarettes but your food! The more smoke you create while barbecuing, the more carcinogenic compounds there are.

One of the biggest culprits is fat from meat dropping onto the hot coals.

So, as I suggested previously, you can trim the fat off the meat, choose lean cuts and also do not stab sausages, causing the fat to run out.

But, let's face it, if you're like me, you don't want to give up totally on the nice fatty bits. So here's a couple of suggestions:

Firstly, only use barbecue tongs or a spatula and not a fork to turn the meat. A fork will pierce the meat, causing the juices to run out onto the coals and therefore creating smoke.

You can also place the meat on a piece of foil that has been pricked with holes to protect the meat from the smoke.

Tame the flames

THIS METHOD WORKS BEST IF YOU ARE GRILLING ON A CHARCOAL AND WOOD BARBECUE. MAKE TWO PILES OF COALS WITH A STAINLESS STEEL TRAY IN THE MIDDLE TO ACT AS A TROUGH.

ONLY GRILL MEAT OVER THIS TROUGH TO CATCH ALL THE FAT AND DRIPPINGS IN THE TROUGH, SO IT DOESN'T SPLATTER ON TO THE COALS. YOU CAN GRILL VEGGIE SKEWERS, FRUIT AND GARLIC BREAD ON TOP OF THE COALS, SO YOU WON'T WASTE GRILL SPACE.

May this summer be a season of perfectly cooked sausages, non charcoal burgers and salmonella free chicken. Just in case, have plenty of garlic bread and chips 'n' dips on hand.

All recipes taken from Relish BBQ book by Rozanne Stevens.

For cookbooks and healthy cookery classes, log on to the website at www.rozannestevens.com or Twitter: @RozanneStevens

Rozanne Stevens

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