August 17, 2009

Summer Traditions

Yes, the days may be growing a bit shorter, and the newspaper ads are already threatening us with "back to school" sales. But it's still summertime, right? And the season holds so many wonderful, familiar traditions: a swim at the beach, the sweet taste of a big fat triangle of watermelon, balmy evening strolls, baseball games, carnival rides, parades, festivals, and fireworks!

Other summer traditions? Well some aren't quite so cherished: boring reruns and sitting around sweating, or alternatively, cranking that noisy wasteful air conditioner up to "high" and then suffering the power outages that happen when everyone else does the same thing.

But one summer tradition almost everyone enjoys? The backyard barbecue!

Many Americans enjoy grilled food.

Yes, this is the time of year when 99% of the population says "Yippeeee! Let's fire up the coals and cook us some delicious burgers/dogs/chicken/tofu-veggie kabobs/ostrich patties!"

The other 1% of us? We sit around fretting about all the HCA's and PAH's.

So what are HCA's and PAH's?

Well, they're carcinogens. They form when you grill meat. Well-done red meat is particularly problematic.

Carcinogens? That doesn't sound good.

What's the point of stuffing ourselves with boatloads of all those virtuous anti-cancer foods if we're going to cancel out all that virtue with a simple backyard barbecued burger?

All for nothing? Dang!

But I have to confess I LOVE the taste of cancer-burgers and cancer-dogs and cancer-chicken and cancer-steaks. And the mouth-watering smell... How are we meat-eaters supposed to resist that char-grilled aroma when it's hard-wired into our cave-woman and cave-man brains?

(Sorry, all you vegetarians and vegans. But I'm guessing you were long gone at the first sight of that burger picture).

How to deal with this summertime dilemma?

My Previous Barbecue Strategy:

1. Try to limit barbecuing to when we are (a) camping or (b) having company. (Despite the fact that The Lobster* is an excellent and enthusiastic griller of meats).

(*The Lobster=My Significant Other, for those who are new here).

2. When the Lobster is finally permitted to fire up the grill, mention repeatedly at the grocery store (in a whiny voice) that barbecued meats cause cancer. Sigh when approaching the meat counter.

3. Announce that while everyone else might be having steak or burgers, I will make myself have a garden burger or a slab of tofu or a veggie kebab instead. Or maybe at least choose chicken or fish.

4. Think about it some more.

5. Guiltily throw an extra package of burgers and/or steaks into the shopping cart.

6. Once the Evil Meat is cooked, have seconds because it tastes so damn good.

Admittedly, not a particularly effective strategy.

Good thing it turns out there are other ways besides guilt and whining to deal with the grilled meats issue. Who knew?

Better Barbecuing Strategies:

1. Marinade! Even a few minutes helps get rid of a whole bunch of the nasty carcinogens, and grocery store dry mixes are apparently fine. This marinade study found marinading reduces HCA's by 87%. The level of reduced HCA's seemed to correlate to the amount of antioxidants present in the marinades.

"The marinade containing rosemary and thyme had the greatest effect on reducing HCAs, but two other marinades with different herbs seasonings were tested and found to be almost as effective. The rosemary/thyme marinade also contained pepper, allspice and salt. Another marinade included oregano, thyme, garlic and onion. A third marinade had oregano, garlic, basil, onion and parsley."

I’ve also read that acidic marinades are good, like those containing lemon or vinegar.

2. Choose wisely: the American Institute of Cancer Research says the grilling of meat is only a small part of the problem--it's what we grill that's getting us in trouble. Because of the link to colorectal cancer, they recommend we limit red meat to 18 ounces a week and avoid processed meats entirely.

3. Pre-cook in the microwave. Then toss out the juice, where a lot of the carcinogens are hiding.

4. Select small cuts of meat, like kebabs.

5. Choose lean cuts of meat and avoid fat dripping on the coals and causing flare-ups.

6. Flip Frequently.

Um, I meant flip the meat.

7. Avoid really high heat: Use a gas grill, or if using charcoal, don't cook meat too close to the coals

8. Don't Cook the Hell out of It. This one doesn't bother me, as I'm a medium-rare kinda gal, but those of you who like your red meat dry and brown and tasteless well done should probably indulge in grilling only "rarely."

So did this post sound somewhat familiar? Sorry about that!

Remember those other summer traditions I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the air conditioners and power outages and summer reruns? Well, the power went off Sunday afternoon as I was in the middle of researching a post about something else entirely. Since our cable modem needs electricity, and my laptop batteries had a only a small reserve of power, I thought rather than have no post at all, I’d partake of that Dreaded Summer Tradition, the “Rerun.”

Later in the evening, the power indeed came back on! And then went off again. So I'm afraid this is a very slightly edited version of a post that went up last year. But I'm hoping that if you already read it, you’re like me and don't remember a damn thing about it!

So do any of you worry about grilling meat and getting cancer, or is it only me who’s paranoid?


  1. That's good to know about the marinades. It was news to me.. but so was the full post. Does barbecuing cause memory loss too?

  2. Enjoyed reading this, as I knew marinades helped, but I did not know specific combinations were better.

    My parents used to love meat well done until they were tricked into trying it medium rare (it was served to them by candle light so they didn't know at first). That is the only way to serve it.

  3. **shades eyes**

    I marinade.
    I do not cook much.
    I grill lots.
    Parental units visiting.
    I need to make dinner.
    Please to see sentence number 2.

    off to marinade :)

  4. Fun AND informative post & love "the flip"!

    I am not a read meat person.. just don't care for it but do eat turkey & chicken... & I am also a well done meat sort of gal from my very early years!

    Since I hardly ever BBQ, I just don't worry too much hen I do... it may be 4- 5 times a year max so not a biggie for me PLUS we do marinade the meat when we BBQ!

    Thx for the repost that I did not see the first time!

  5. We hardly ever barbeque, but I'll try to remember these tips for next time (which may turn out to be next summer.....)

    (side note - my word verification? rednedbz - is that dissing me for being a country girl?)

  6. The problem with prevention is to many people, it's a leap of faith that they don't have faith in. If, unfortunately, THE DISEASE strikes, it's too late for all the prevention in the world, and that's the game we all play.

  7. Those marinades sound really good. Seems to me aspirin wards off colorectal cancer now. So pop an aspirin and fire up the barbie. Oh, and as for the veggies being cancelled out? It works the other way, Crabby, I'm sure. Have seconds plus a few more veggies and you'll be fine.

  8. Fortunately I don't eat meat that often, so I don't feel too bad about the 3 times a year that I barbeque!

  9. Cancer be d@mned, I want my meat! Admittedly I usually don't eat meat all that much to begin with but dang it all, if there's a BBQ involved I'm loading up with no remorse whatsoever!

  10. "avoid fat dripping on the coals and causing flare-ups." But that's the fun part!

    Not a fan of cooking outdoors where the bugs are....

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  11. It sounds a little like black magic to me-- if you marinade the meat while dancing wittershins around the kirk... no wait, wrong recipe!

  12. I do my grilling on my George Foreman. You don't get the same smoky flavor, but you avoid the carcinogens (at least, assuming the Teflon coating isn't leaking into the meat, which it probably is).

    I don't do my grilling on the Foreman to be righteous, though; I do it because I live in a small Manhattan apartment with no outdoor place to grill. Otherwise, I'd probably be right there enjoying my cancerous burgers with the rest of you.

  13. We don't have a grill, but do use the grill on our stove. I love to marinate chicken because of the increased flavor.

    Thanks for the great tips!

  14. As with everything else, moderation is the key - um, except for chocolate.

  15. Darn! I just purchased our first natural gas grill a couple of months ago and love it. It's quick, tasty, and has less to clean up. I use it often. I'll have to be more aware of what I'm grilling....less burgers, more chicken (marinated, of course). Grilled veggies and fish are awesome.

    And rerun posts are awesome, too.

  16. I did not know about the marinade - thanks for the tip! We do grill chicken a lot...beef not so much. But I have to say, there is NOTHING like a burger that has been cooked over hot coals - YUM!!!

  17. Summer is so about the grilling. Steak. Chicken. Corn. Veggies. Gardenburgers. We use our grill for probably 80% of our meals. But I do use a gas grill and I try not to charcoal the crap out of the food.

    And besides, I figure I've already burned that bridge. While in college I worked for the county road crew for a couple years. We were the kids putting those black tar lines in all your roads. Our lunch nearly every day? What we deemed "Tar buggy samiches". Turkey (or ham) & cheese on a bun (with condiments of choice) wrapped up in tin foil and thrown in the back of the tar buggy at start time. The tar buggy would be the piece of equipment that runs at about 500 degrees all day to keep all that tar nice and runny to apply to the road. Yeah. Because I'm sure the fumes were soooo healthy for those sandwiches. But damn they tasted good. So yeah, carcinogens from my grill are not high on my worry list.

    And if you're going to be a frequent flipper, be sure you're not using something pokey to flip. You'll just dry out your meat. Stick to a metal spatula. Or tongs.

  18. Grilling is an addiction I'll never quit, cancer and all. And I like to grill EVERYTHING, especially veggies.

    On plus side, I like my meat a little on the bloody side. So, less time on the grill = me off the hook....right?

  19. Hi Crabby,

    Very informative. let's remember our mantra: All things in moderation. All things in moderation.


  20. I'm not paranoid. EVERYTHING causes cancer. Having sex can cause cervical cancer. Staying in the sun too long can give you skin cancer. Eating mostly anything besides rabbit food causes everything cancer. We're all dying of cancer anyway. I like my meat still mooing so I think cancerland is a little ways off for me anyway. I quit smoking already! My meat can smoke all it wants to taste good!

  21. I haven't ever worried about getting cancer from grilling, but I do try to pay attention to what I put on my skin, body, etc. that have harmful chemicals in it. I mean if you are careful about eating meats, what about the chemicals you rub on your face everyday that are seeping into your skin from your lotion. Yikes!

    My uncle did try nitrate free bacon and said it was good, so nitrate free dogs will probably be next.

  22. I only heard about this grilling causes cancer this year. So, I usually will have a grilled chicken breast on a gas grill that my husband cooks up. Usually he will make some kind of flour and spice coating and coat the chicken. Is this bad? Since I'm on a diet, I don't eat hot dogs, hamburgers or steak. I'm not a steak fan anyway.

  23. Yay! Grilling!

    Wait . . . what do you mean that wasn't the point of the post? ;)

    Good to know about the marinades, though. 'Cause Lord knows I'm not giving up my grill habit.

  24. Too late!

    (my word verification is FEAST)

  25. Great post! BBQ's is one of m favorite summer activities to take part in also (can't forget the super bowl cookouts too). I also will opt for the veggie burger or chicken because I don't eat beef. Now I do have a question concerning the microwave. How long do you pre-cook the meat in the microwave for before you take it out?

  26. Huh. I don't care for the taste of meat all that much, and I definitely can't stand chewing on gobs of fat, so I prefer lean meat (first choice always being chicken) and I like my meat marinated in a mixture containing lemon or lime juice and lots of spices, to somewhat disguise the taste of the actual meat. Who knew my fussiness actually led to healthier choices. :)

  27. Hey, I don't remember where I read this, but tis true: adding cherries to the raw burger meat before cooking reduces carcinogen formation by 90%! I think it was something like 1 part cherries to 9 parts burger. You chop them fine in the processor and it does't affect the taste.

  28. Hmm... didn't really know about that marinade trick. That's scrumptious.

    But grilling is a rare occasion around my vicinity anyways. It's all about the all mighty iron pan! To hell with teflon.

  29. I don't eat barbecue too often, but you know what's full of antioxidants, and all sorts of chemicals to fight cancer? Veggies! I always bring a green salad, or some crudites when I go to a barbecue potluck, just to try to cover my bases. The world really is carcinogenic, but we have to live in it anyway. I'm going to go have a nectarine right now!

  30. I thought I had seen this before, but it was enhanced with new tips. lol. I guess we needed the reminder more than you knew :)

    Marinades...yummy! Dry rubs work too? Then we're good :) I always hear aboutn the carcinogen stuff then promptly put it out of my head. But, given that we use dry rubs and marinades, it doesn't matter as much??? We actually don't grill much. Tastes good, but money is more of a factor than anything. *sigh*

  31. you have posted very nice blog. all the comments are so good.


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