A long summer day, food sizzling on the grill, talking, laughing, eating, kids playing. What could be more perfect?
Whenever we have a family barbecue, we bring along my dad. He’s not very mobile these days, but we find him a seat in the shade and he enjoys the food and the atmosphere. He smiles at the grandchildren’s antics and enjoys listening to all his kids interacting. He can’t eat steak these days but boy, does he love his juicy hamburgers!
I had always assumed that grilling was a really healthy way to eat. It avoids all the batter and grease of fried foods and is heavily based on spices. But then I read on WebMD that there are two disadvantages to barbecuing. The first one is that it encourages us to eat large quantities of fatty meats like sausages. The other disadvantage is that grilling forms compounds that might cause cancer. Meat that drips on to hot coals and then rises back to the grilled food produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and high heat cooking of meat and poultry forms heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
So I set out to make our barbecues more healthful, not just for Dad but for all of us. The first thing I did was buy lots of vegetables. Not only are they rich in antioxidants, they don’t produce PAHs and HCAs. I love to make veggie skewers, with cherry tomatoes, onion, pepper and zucchini. Grilled slices of eggplant are also extremely popular in our family.
I also started buying leaner meats and trimming them before grilling. This means that less fat drops on to the coals, so there’s less danger of forming PAHs and HCAs. And I learned that flipping the meat also reduces the amount of dripping, so I make sure to turn the meat a lot – especially those hamburgers I know Dad enjoys so much.
Another trick I learned is to marinate the meat before grilling. This also limit the amount of dripping, but of course the marinade needs to be healthy. I like Dijon mustard and coriander for my chicken, lemon and dill for fish and olive oil and jalapeno pepper for steak (watch out, though, it’s spicy!).
Barbecuing for less time is healthier than lengthy grilling, so I often alternate vegetables and meat on skewers for a quick and delicious dish. When I make chicken wings I boil them first, so I don’t have to leave them on the grill for too long. They taste just as good and no one stays hungry waiting for them to cook.
I’m not much of a cook, but I am an expert on the grill. Now that I have learned how to make my barbecues healthy enough even for Dad, I look forward to many lazy summer days enjoying family and fresh grilled food.