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Brush up on grilling safety

Brush up on grilling safety

Every year, as barbecuing gets into full swing, questions arise about barbecue safety.

There are two types of safety concerns about which backyard barbecuers and retailers need to be well informed. Since customers may ask you questions, you need to put them at ease and maintain their confidence in outdoor cooking by readily conveying the answers.

Both you and your customers no doubt are most familiar with the external safety questions such as, “Where should I store my spare filled propane tank?” or “How often should the grill be cleaned?” But the questions that perhaps cause the greatest angst focus on health issues, such as whether it is “safe” to eat barbecued foods.

Poor barbecuing techniques can create dangerous byproducts known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs may increase the risk of cancer according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. HCAs are created when red meat, poultry and fish – the protein “muscle meats” – are subjected to intense high heat. This includes frying or broiling inside as well as grilling.

PAHs are formed when animal or fish fats drip onto hot coals or open flame. The smoke and flare-ups drive these residues into the food and are thought to possibly increase the risk of stomach cancer. However, a recent report by the World Cancer Research Fund, which included a discussion on HCAs and PAHs, concluded there was “little evidence to draw any conclusion about the association between methods of preparation and risk of cancer.”

So, you can tell your customers, “Don’t give up grilling or barbecuing on the altar of wellness. Just update your grilling techniques.” Why not print the following suggestions on your store letterhead with a headline of “Hot Tips for Healthful Barbecues” and use them for handouts:

  • Reduce the heat. Give meats a quick sear and then lower the temperature to complete cooking.

  • Reduce cooking time for grilling at higher temperatures. “Well done” can translate to a bigger risk for PAHs. Barbecuing and/or slower cooking at low temperatures tenderizes the meat and develops the flavor.

  • Choose low-fat meats for grilling or trim excess fat before cooking. This minimizes the amount of fat dripping into the coals or flame to cause flare-ups.

  • Use indirect cooking whenever possible. Put a drip pan under the meat and arrange the coals to either side when cooking with charcoal. In a gas grill preheat all burners, then turn off one of them and put the meat or food on the cooking grid side with no heat. The food will cook from the circulating hot air without burning or charring.

  • Trim any char from grilled meat before serving it. It will also taste better.

  • Marinate meat, but go easy on the amount of oil in the marinade to prevent flare-ups. Marinate in the refrigerator, never on the counter.

  • Grill lots of veggies, fruits and fish, which have lower amounts of fat. These add variety to meals and are good for you. Leftovers are great in sandwiches or salads.

  • Microwave meat and poultry to partially cook then finish on the grill. According to a nutritional epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute, this reduces HCAs by 90%.

  • Clean the cooking grid on your grill frequently. It not only helps ensure a healthier, safer barbecue but food will stick less. Oil the grid before firing up the grill. At least several times a year give your grill a thorough cleaning inside and out.

  • Use baking soda to control a grease fire as it won’t ruin your food. Simply rinse it off before continuing to cook. Always have a fire extinguisher on hand for more out-of-control fires.

  • After removing meat from the marinade, if you wish to use it as a baste or sauce for the cooked meat, boil it for at least three to five minutes to destroy bacteria. Never reuse a marinade; it could be deadly.

  • Do not put cooked food back on the platter or cutting board used for raw meat.

  • When using a smoke cooker, after a couple of hours of cooking with wood smoke chips, chunks or pellets, wrap the meat in foil to avoid a too-intense smoke flavor.

You may have other good tips to add if you decide to hand out healthy grilling tips to customers. Here’s to healthier outdoor cooking for everyone.

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