NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Grilling and The Great Outdoors

Grilling and The Great Outdoors


          Grilling, which has been around since cave-man days, is enjoying immense popularity these days.  Especially if you judge that popularity by the size of grills available.  Backyard grilling is a favorite American summer pastime.  Yet, recent research indicates that in addition to the usual food safety risks, grilling meats, such as red meat, poultry and fish, may pose certain health risks.

          According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, cooking th0se foods at high temperatures, especially over an open flame, produces substances called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs which have been shown to cause tumors in animals. While the risk to humans is less clear, there is concern that  high levels of HCAs may increase the risk of certain types of cancer.  In addition to HCAs another class of cancer-promoting substances, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs are formed when fat from meat, poultry or fish drips onto hot coals causing flare-ups.  PAHs are deposited onto the food when smoke and flames are allowed to reach the food.

          Does this mean the end to backyard barbeques?  Probably not.  How great a risk HCAs or PCAs are to humans has not been specifically determined and may not be for some time.  In the interim though, we can view and treat the information the same as we do with any other food safety risk.  Whether you barbeque at home or eat grilled foods when you dine out:

          - Clean the grill thoroughly before cooking to remove any charred food debris left over from previous uses.

          - Select the least fatty cuts of meat, fish and poultry and trim off as much fat as possible. Remove the skin from poultry before cooking

          - Thoroughly thaw frozen foods before grilling.  Frozen meat chars on the outside chars while the inside remains frozen.

          - Baste with barbeque sauce or low fat salad dressing, not fat or oil.  If you use a marinade, keep the oil to a minimum.

          - Increase the distance between the heat and the meat

          - Keep the fat from dripping onto the heat source and producing smoke.  A metal pan in the center of a bed of charcoal can collect many of the fat drippings.

          - Grill using a more indirect heat by keeping  coals to one side and food to the other. 

          - Don’t eat the liquid drippings and cut away any charred parts of the food.

          HCAs and PCAs aside, use a food thermometer to check food for doneness.  Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the food, away from bone, fat or gristle.  Hamburgers and ground beef should reach an internal temperature of 160 F; whole poultry, 180 F; poultry breasts, 170 F; 160 F for all pork cuts.  Beef, veal, lamb steaks, roasts and chops should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145F.

          After grilling, keep foods at 140 F or warmer until served.  Discard any food left out for more than two hours of one hour is the temperature is above 90 F.  When in doubt, throw it out.  Happy grilling! 

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