Consider using a marinade when you grill this summer. Using a marinade has been shown to decrease the amount of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which can be formed during the cooking process by the action of high temperatures or a direct flame on beef, chicken, fish and other foods high in protein. Some laboratory studies have shown that these compounds promote cancer in lab animals. Other studies have suggested that charred meat could increase the risk of colon, breast and stomach cancers.
Marinades containing acidic ingredients such as salsa, vinegar or lemon juice seem to be particularly effective at reducing the formation of HCAs. For example, when researchers marinated chicken breasts in a mixture containing lemon juice, vinegar and flavourings, they noted a reduction in HCA formation by more than 90 per cent.
Here’s how to add flavour and enhance safety when enjoying your summer grilling.
Allow about 1/4 cup of marinade per pound of meat. Marinate the meat in a refrigerator, not on the counter.
For good quality, don’t overdo the marinating process. For tender cuts, such as tenderloin, rib-eye or sirloin, allow up to two hours for marinating. For less tender cuts, such as flank, skirt, chuck shoulder or top round, allow at least six hours (up to 24 hours) for marinating.
Turn the meat in the marinade occasionally for even flavouring.
If you want to use some of the marinade for sauce after the meat is cooked, reserve some before you put the meat in it.
Avoid flare-ups when grilling by using lean meats and trimming excess fat from the meat. Be sure to keep a spray bottle of water nearby just in case a flare-up occurs.
Whether you like marinated or plain meat, cook at a lower heat setting or raise the grate on your grill. Be sure to use a food thermometer to gauge doneness so you do not overcook or undercook. Consider precooking the meat or poultry in your microwave oven for a minute or two just before grilling. Keep in mind, though, that microwaving might result in less juicy meat.
If you happen to char the edges of the meat, trim the burned parts prior to serving. Add some grilled fruits and vegetables to your menu, too. They add colour, flavour, fibre and vitamins. Since fruits and vegetables are low in protein, HCAs do not form during the grilling process.
– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L. R. D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.