Fire It Up! 6 Tips for a Better (and Healthier) Barbecue


Without taking all the fun out of backyard barbecues, here are some tips for making delicious, healthy grilled food. Photo: Westend61/GettyImages

Summer means barbecue season.  And we Canadians sure do love to barbecue. At one point, Canada was leading the world in Google searches for barbecue chicken and ribs recipes. It’s a long-standing seasonal tradition in this country, but some cautionary studies in recent years are leading many of us to change the way we go about grilling.

Without taking all the fun out of backyard barbecues, here are some tips for making delicious, healthy grilled food.


1) Don’t char your meats

Numerous studies have shown that eating charred meats can increase the risk for certain types of cancer. A University of Minnesota study, for example, found that eating blackened meat on a regular basis increased the risk of pancreatic cancer by 60 per cent. Other studies have shown an increased risk for stomach, colorectal, prostate and other cancers.

When protein-rich meats, poultry or fish are exposed to high heat and flames, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic hydrocarbons are formed. It’s these chemicals that have been linked to various cancers.

As a way of mitigating the risk, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends choosing lean cuts of meats, poultry and seafood over higher fat meats. This reduces flare-ups and the resulting smoke when fat burns. (Taking the skin off chicken, for example, is a great start and also cuts down on fat and calories.)

One tip is to barbecue smaller meat portions, like kabobs, which won’t spend as much time on the grill. You can also wrap meats in foil for part of the cooking process or line the grills with tin foil punctured with small holes to reduce their direct contact with open flames.


2) Consider barbecuing non-meat sources of protein

Julie Daniluk, a registered nutritionist, TV host and best-selling Canadian author, recommends grilling a lentil burger or other type of veggie burger instead of hamburgers or hot dogs. “Vegetable sources of protein and vegetables in themselves do not produce many HCAs and are low in fat,” she says.


3) Marinate, marinate, marinate

Some ingredients, like fresh herbs, beer, wine, vegetable oils and certain juices not only add flavour, but act as a barrier between flames and your meat, poultry or fish. There are all kinds of recipes online for marinades, many of them calling for ingredients most kitchens already have on hand.


4) Get out the vegetables

Grilled veggies taste great. Period. And marinating them only intensifies the flavour. The trick is to cut them in evenly-sized pieces so they’ll cook at the same rate. Try to leave them in your favourite marinade for about an hour. Zucchini, peppers, potatoes, onions, eggplant, whole mushrooms and even asparagus and are all great on the grill and most will cook in roughly 10 minutes.


5) Avoid cross-contamination

Never place your cooked meats on the same plate you used to bring the raw product to the barbecue. Always use a clean plate.


6) Clean your grill

It may sound obvious, but don’t start your barbecuing season by cooking on last year’s dirty, blackened grill. Get a new wire brush every year and clean off the racks in between each barbecued meal, finishing the job with a wet cloth or paper towel to ensure no loose pieces of wire are transferred to your food.

A version of this story was published on May 19, 2019.


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