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Health > Food And Diet > The Two Sides Of Grilled Food


Grilled foods are usually considered "healthy" because they are cooked without fat. For instance, a typical four-ounce chicken breast cooked on the grill contains about nine grams of fat, while a four-ounce serving of fast-food fried chicken contains about 17 grams of fat.

Although your waistline is better off with grilled cuisine, the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) points out that grilling might increase the risk of various cancers. Cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced when animal protein is cooked at the high temperatures used in grilling and broiling. Other cancer-causing compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when meat fat drips onto hot coals. As food cooks on the grill, flames and smoke help deposit the PAHs onto the food.


According to Melanie Polk, RD, MMSc, director of nutrition education at AICR, you can take precautions to minimize these problems. She suggests using lean cuts of meats, removing skin from poultry, and trimming fat from meat prior to grilling. Partially precooking meats in the microwave, and finishing the cooking on the grill is another way to keep foods safe and flavorful. However, ADA spokesperson Diane Quagliani, RD, cautions that it is necessary to grill the pre-cooked food immediately after micro waving in order to minimize the growth of bacteria.


Some studies have suggested that marinating meat prior to grilling can actually reduce the formation of HCAs. One study in particular noted a 15-fold decrease of HCAs in chicken that was marinated and then cooked for a 30-minute period. In addition to keeping your meat safe from cancer-causing compounds, marinades can tenderize and boost the flavor of meat while keeping it moist during grilling. But don't reuse your marinades. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA warns against this practice unless you boil the marinade first to destroy bacteria. Using fresh marinade for basting is even easier, and eliminates the risk of bacterial contamination altogether.


If the mosquitoes don't get you, the food-borne bacteria can, unless you enforce the "rules of the kitchen." Food safety experts warn that safety precautions are necessary to prevent food-borne illnesses, which peak in the summer months. According to the FSIS, the hot and humid summer weather promotes faster growth of microorganisms. To keep bacterial contamination to a minimum, experts suggest the following:


The ADA survey found only 44% of men washed their hands throughout the food preparation process while grilling.


The ADA survey noted that 40% of men will use a plate contaminated with raw meat and then re-use it for cooked meat. Use one cutting board for raw meats and a clean one for other foods in order to reduce bacteria crossover. Be sure to use separate plates, utensils, and platters for raw and cooked foods.


Meats should be refrigerated while marinating and up to the point of being cooked. When the grilling starts, be sure the internal temperature of meats is appropriate to kill bacteria. Use a meat thermometer to check internal temperatures and don't rely on the appearance of the food. Using a meat thermometer will also improve taste by avoiding either under- or overcooking the meat. Leftovers should be refrigerated immediately if possible and should be tossed if left out more than one hour in very hot temperatures.

Safe food temperatures

Cold foods Less than 40° F

Cooked whole poultry 180° F

Cooked chicken breasts 170° F

Cooked ground meat 160° F

Cooked beef, veal, lamb roasts and chops 145°-170° F

All cuts of cooked pork 160°-170° F


Ground beef is processed by cutting and mixing the meat from many different animals. If even one piece of meat is contaminated with bacteria, the contamination can spread during processing. If burgers are your choice, cook them to an internal temperature of 160° F and make sure the juice runs clear to avoid contamination with E-coli bacteria.

Steak can be eaten pinker and rarer, because any E-coli on the surface will be destroyed when cooked. However, piercing the meat while it's raw can introduce bacteria from the outside of the meat to the inside. Therefore, if you prefer your steak pink, avoid piercing it with a fork while cooking. Using tongs or a spatula to turn foods will also minimize the amount of fat and juice that drips and causes flare-ups.

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