Enjoying time with family and friends around the barbecue is summer living at its best. Trouble is, this classic American pastime has come under fire in recent years on the heels of researchers finding that cooking over an open flame and at such high heat may have a negative impact on our health. This news conflicts with the many nutritional benefits we’ve heard touted about grilling in the past. Confused? You’re not alone.
So… is grilling healthy? The good news is yes, it can be, but it depends on what you’re actually throwing on the grill, how you cook it, and the type of grill you use (e.g., charcoal versus gas grill).
Read on to learn about barbecuing best practices.
Which Is Healthier — Gas or Charcoal Grills?
Many people prefer the taste of charcoal-grilled food to that cooked over gas, but where there’s smoke, is there fire in terms of your health? Unfortunately for charcoal fans, it’s possible. Gas grilling appears to be healthier.
Why? Cooking meat at high heat — whether it’s frying or grilling over an open flame — causes heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a carcinogen, to form in the meat itself. But another carcinogen, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) forms when fat and juices drip off the meat onto the open heat source, creating PAH-rich smoke. Compared to charcoal grills, fewer PAHs are formed when using a gas grill.
6 More Tips for Healthy Grilling
Aside from the type of grill you use, here are six more tips to help keep your favorite summer pastime a healthy option:
1. Marinate Meats
Marinating meats and other proteins for 30 minutes before grilling makes it healthier (and tastier, too). “Marinades not only add tons of flavor and moisture to meats on the grill, but they can also help limit carcinogens from developing when you’re cooking at such high heat,” says Kelly Plowe, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian. (Check out these best marinades for your summer BBQ.)
2. Go Lean with Protein
Choosing lean proteins, and cutting away any excess fat, not only cuts down on overall saturated fat and calories, but it also helps limit drippings from the meat, which can then lead to unnecessary smoke.
3. Limit Charring
While for some, a slight char on a steak is synonymous with grilling, it’s best if you skip this step altogether. Limiting or removing charred pieces of meat cuts down on the number of carcinogens.
4. Limit Temps and Time
The higher the temps and the longer your food sits on the grill, the more carcinogens are produced so once that steak or chicken breast has reached its appropriate internal temp, it’s time to pull it from the grill and enjoy.
5. Flip Frequently
Routinely flipping meat on the grill can help limit HCAs from forming.
6. Choose Wisely
If you’re really concerned about grilling healthy, think about the contents of your cookout. “Everything else aside, one of the biggest factors to consider is what you’re actually throwing on the grill,” says Plowe. “Burgers and hot dogs? Not so much. Seafood or marinated chicken breasts, fresh veggies, and even fresh fruit are all healthy options to add to the open fire.” Bonus: Fruits and veggies are rich in potential cancer-fighting phytochemicals, and they don’t produce HCAs.
Is Frying Healthier Than Grilling?
Definitely not. Grilling is a healthier option compared to frying because the meat isn’t mired in oil and grease. On top of that, fried foods, especially the highly processed kind you typically enjoy when eating out, are usually high in trans fats. Trans fats are trouble because they’re linked to increased inflammation (which is at the root of many chronic diseases) and heart disease.