The Dark Side of Cooking

The Dark Side of Cooking



Summer is here and we break out the grill! Nothing quite screams “summer” like the smell of charcoal, roasted corn and sizzling steak fresh off the grill! As a family, we love the grill and I love the convenience of not having to slave over the stove for a meal; even as dark words like “char, smoke, AGE’s , carcinogens” come rushing to my mind ( curse the fact that I am a nutrition geek, read all the nutrition magazines  and feel the need to practice what I read – at least somewhat!!). The dark side of cooking: Very real, since harmful byproducts  like  AGE’s ‘Advanced Glycation End products’- a chemical chain reaction that occurs, when food is cooked at very high temperatures, often causing cellular damage, advance aging, and in high doses even carcinogenic.  Cooking meat at a high temperature also causes chemicals called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form. These carcinogens can cause changes in DNA that can lead to cancer. Does this mean we give up grilling? Na, grilled food is summer chow for the soul. With a few precautions and safety measures you can enjoy your backyard grill and grill kitchen to your hearts content!


Go All Tender: Meat tenderizers are the best! They cut down cooking time by half or more.  Less cooking time means less time on the grill and less formation of AGE’s. You can use store bought meat tenderizers or you can try making my home made green papaya meat tenderizer. It makes the meat all soft and tender and improves flavor too!

Slather on Marinade: Marinades and rubs usually contain some amount of meat tenderizer. Spices and Herbs like pepper, turmeric, ginger, rosemary and thyme are packed with antioxidants and they help reduce formation of carcinogens, so add them liberally in your marinades. Bonus: More flavorful meats. Using lemon and vinegar in the marinade cooks meats naturally so less grilling is required.


Break Them Bones:  Yep, this is the time when breaking the bones in meats will make for easier, quicker grilling. Boneless meats grill quicker but you can use methods like “spatchcocking” whole chicken which drastically quickens cooking time. If you’re not quite sure how to do that, check out these directions on how to spatchcock poultry. I have never tried this but my chef buddies tell me this works great. You can poke slits into chicken drumsticks and they will grill quicker and ensure all that spice goes into the chicken.


Dazzle with Silver: Using foil packets cooks meat on the grill evenly and safely with less AGEs formation. This method uses steam built up in the packets to cook the meat gently. You can always open up the grill packet and expose the meats to the grill for a few minutes to get those nice etched grill marks. You will get a lot less AGEs and PAHs formation using this method and it locks in flavor.

Pre-cook Meats:  Half cooking meat beforehand in a microwave, skillet or oven is a great way to lessen cooking time on grill. Pre-cooking removes some of the fat that can drip and increase smoke. Barbeque smoke contains (PAHs) Poly aromatic hydrocarbons: Toxic chemicals that can be potential carcinogens and get absorbed by the lungs in a similar fashion to cigarette smoke.  The end product of meat that has been half cooked before grilling, is the same as fully grilling it, but with much less ACEs and HCAs.


Some other safety methods to ingest fewer carcinogens would be to strip the char off the meat before serving. Also, once you’ve grilled the meat remove from grill. It is tempting to use that rack on top of most grills that keeps grilled food warm. As the grilled food sits out there it absorbs more ACEs and HCAs courtesy of the grill fumes.  Avoid that by removing from the grill as soon as you finish. If you can, turn your grill to a low-heat setting, which makes it harder for meat to burn or char. Go easy on the aerosol filled oil sprays which create more smoke which means ACEs. You’re better off using the good old turkey baster to moisten meats with lemon and oil in-between grilling. Grill more fruits and veggies, all safer choices because HCAs, AGEs and PAHs form mainly in muscle proteins so produce is relatively safe.


Ok, so hopefully I haven’t put the scare of the grill into you! Just some safety tips to be a little cautious without giving up your favorite cooking sport!  If you have any tips that you use to shorten grilling time please share and have a safe grilling season!


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