To answer the question 'is grilling healthy?' for you, you really need to consider a few factors about your health before deciding. Lifestyle, age and health will all play a part in your decision whether to eat meat and, more specifically, whether to eat grilled meat.
But if we are simply looking at the choices available to us, grilled meat is one of the healthiest ways to prepare food.
It is also one of the easiest ways to prepare food. Just organise some hot coals under the grill (or a traditional Aussie gas barbeque), take your meats out of the fridge, and cook. Simple!
But recently, there has been some talk about whether grilled meat is healthy for you or not. These days eating healthy is on most people's minds, and we all want to ensure we are looking after ourselves while still enjoying great, delicious food.
So what you can do to ensure that the grilled meat you cook for yourself and your family and friends is healthy?
What is grilling?
Firstly, what do we mean by grilling? When we discuss grilling, we are specifically talking about barbecued meats cooked on a grill or BBQ and cooking meat over an open flame. Delicious!
In recent years Cancer Australia, our national cancer institute, has suggested that there may be a connection between barbecued meats, processed meats and some increased risk of cancer.
While this is true, the good news is that they also recognise that red meat is an important source of iron and zinc. And when eaten in moderation as part of a balanced diet, red meats contribute positively to our Australian diet.
Grilling uses fewer fats and oils
Grilled meats contain less fat and calories when compared to fried meats. The excess fat drips off while the meat is cooking over open heat. Frying, on the other hand, is a cooking method that increases the fat and grease content in food because the food soaks up the oil.
Which means that grilling is the best cooking method if you want to reduce your fat intake to help manage your weight.
Grilled food is fast and inexpensive to prepare
If you are conscious about eating healthy and saving money, you are more likely to grill some chicken wings instead of buying some fried chicken.
The cooking time is fast, so you do not have to wait long to eat, and with a squeeze of lemon juice over the top and a fresh chopped salad on the side, you have a healthy meal to enjoy, which is a far better option than greasy, fast food takeaway.
Grilling is just one cooking method for red meat, but there are some crucial factors you can take into account to reduce any adverse health effects significantly.
Guidelines for safe and healthy grilling
Here are simple guidelines to follow when grilling:
Clean your grill surface regularly
While it may not be the best part of grilling, grill lovers know that after using your grill, it is vital to clean the grill's surface well.
Not only does this clean away the charred meat from the grill, it also keeps your grill permanently clean and means it is always ready for the next time.
Keep your food covered
If you have turkey breasts, hot dogs, or any raw meat waiting to go onto the grill, be sure to keep your food covered. You can place the meat in a container or cover it with tin foil to stay fresh.
Wash your hands
Whenever you are handling raw meat, you must make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water afterwards to remove any traces of bacteria.
Do not cook the meat on an open flame
It might be counterintuitive but when you are cooking meat, try to keep it away from a direct flame, although you do want high heat to cook the meat correctly. However, there is some evidence that when meat is exposed to an open flame, the resulting charred food can increase your cancer risk if eaten regularly.
So, always be sure not to burn your meat. Keeping an eye on the cooking meat on the grill grates will help you avoid burning or charring the food.
Do not undercook meat
Although we have just advised you not to burn your meat, it is also vital not to undercook your meat. You want to place the meat on the grill at a high temperature so that the meat cooks fast and you avoid eating undercooked meat.
To give you peace of mind and ensure that your meat is cooked through properly, use a meat thermometer to check. The last thing you want to worry about is serving undercooked meat to family and friends that could result in severe illness from food poisoning.
Turn the meat while grilling
Turning meat regularly while it is grilling will stop the surface from burning or charring, avoiding the problems mentioned above with grilled meat burning.
To turn meat easily, invest in a good pair of tongs.
Parboil meat before grilling
Cooking meat before grilling reduces the time it spends at high temperatures. You can also microwave it, but be careful as this can result in overcooking. Meats cooked in this manner spend less time on the grill and therefore have less likelihood of burning.
And while you want a smokey flavour from grilling your meat, too much smoke could make you ill, much the same as cigarette smoke.
Grill lean meats
Buy a lean cut of meat, or remove visible fat and skin from the meat before grilling. Because the high heat releases fat, and less fat means fewer drops of fat that can lead to potentially harmful chemicals from the smoke produced when it comes into contact with the hot coals.
Remove burnt surfaces from charred meat
If you accidentally burn your food when cooking, scrape off the surface before eating, reducing the chances of having any nasty chemicals on your food.
Separate meat from other foods
Raw meats should not be kept on the same plate or in the same container as fruits, vegetables, or any food you do not intend to cook. This helps avoid bacterial cross-contamination - a situation that can lead to food poisoning.
Using a different cutting board or surface to prepare the meat and the other foods is a good idea so that no raw meat juices contaminate them.
And it is equally important to provide clean plates and utensils for cooked food.
Grill fruits and vegetables
Generally speaking, fruits and vegetables have a lot of health benefits. They reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, or obesity and improve your resistance to illnesses.
Grilled vegetables add a nice flavour to your meal and can also be used to fill you up rather than simply eating meat. Onions, tomatoes, potatoes, apple, pineapple, sweet corn, zucchini, and capsicums are examples of fruits and vegetables that are an excellent addition to the grill.
Make sure to include fresh vegetables and salad in your final dish to make it well-rounded.
Marinating meat can not only intensify the flavour of the food but can also protect the surface of the meat from burning. Fresh rosemary is an excellent choice for use in marinating. And, when marinating meat, it is important to refrigerate it while it is marinating.
A delicious and simple marinade for chicken wings is as follows:
2 tbsp honey OR brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil (or any oil)
5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice (or lime juice if you prefer a zesty flavour)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano or your favourite herb
1/2 tsp black pepper
Simply place all of these ingredients together with the chicken wings in a ziplock bag or air-tight container and allow to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before cooking. You can use a low sodium soy sauce if you prefer a less salty taste.
Grill smaller portions
It might be a simple suggestion, but by grilling smaller portions of meat, you can ensure that they are evenly cooked and spend less time on the grill. Additionally, it makes it easier to see whether or not the food is properly cooked.
A balanced offering of fruit, vegetables, and meat is the basis for any good meal. So make sure to provide fresh salads such as the old favourite potato salad or tomato, cucumber and lettuce.
You can also offer dips with healthy dipping sticks like cut-up carrots or celery.
So, is grilling healthy?
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is some association between overcooked grilled meat and cancer risk. So to make sure that you are avoiding as much risk as possible you should enjoy grilled meat and processed meats in moderation as well as take notice of these guidelines for cooking safely.
This means you can enjoy your grilled chicken without being worried about the potential health risks. Each of the guidelines listed in the article is helpful in preventing the formation of harmful compounds or chemicals in your food.
We know grilling gives food a delicious flavour, and experts say it is a healthier alternative to frying, so you do not have to stay away from grilled meats. Instead, you should adopt healthy grilling practices and eat meat in moderation like all foods in cooking.
And when we consider all the time you can spend with family and friends while cooking food, the benefits outweigh the health concerns.