Who doesn't love the taste of bbq chicken hot off the grill? By all means it's one of the best things about summer yet there are a few caveats to be aware of. Until recently I was oblivious to certain chemicals that can form when grilling meats at high temperatures. These chemicals are called Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In large quantities (I mean, LARGE) they have been linked to increased cancer risks. One way these chemicals are formed is when fat and juices from meat drip over an open fire causing flames. Another way is by smoking or burning meats to that crispy dark goodness...I now no longer consume.
For unknown reasons, grilled chicken (maybe because it needs to be fully cooked) tends to have the highest level of HCAs and, unfortunately, is a crowd favorite during the grilling season. I was hesitant to include a grilled chicken recipe for this topic's discussion because of this fact. I kept saying to myself "go for a recipe with a grilled tempeh burger!", but this won't help you when you DO decide to grill that chicken breast. I know that many people enjoy grilled chicken, so I figured why not include a recipe but provide ways to lower the exposure of carcinogens. Some good grilling news though: HCAs are not found in other foods, other than meats, when cooked at high temperatures. So go ahead and try some alternatives this grilling season!
You can find more information about HCAs and PCAs here.
Now this doesn't mean your summer should be ruined because you can't grill on those breezy summer nights. Remember, the biggest concern is when you eat fatty and processed meats that have been grilled for a long period of time. I wanted to bring this topic up because many are unaware of this health concern. Use the techniques listed below to decrease your exposure to HCAs and PAHs in your grilled food:
Marinate your meat beforehand. This provides a protective barrier against carcinogens.
Limit grill time, but still make sure meat is cooked appropriately.
Limit the use of processed meats; instead, opt for fresh or frozen meats that are minimally processed or from a local farm.
Grill meatless meals by swapping in fruits, vegetables, veggie burgers, tempeh as these do not form HCAs.
Choose fish and seafood more often.
Make sure to always keep your grill clean.
Avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame and avoid prolonged cooking time.
You can pre cook your meat with a microwave to reduce HCA formation.
Cut meats into smaller pieces (think kebab sized) as they require less grilling time.
Cook at a slightly lower cooking temperature.
Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source.
Remove charred portions of meat before consuming.
These tips were adapted from: http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/guidelines-healthier-grilling-cancer-risk/ & http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/News2?id=15485
Herb Marinated Chicken Thighs
8 skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
Juice and the zest of 4 lemons
5 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped
5 sprigs of fresh sage of thyme, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, chopped herbs, garlic, black pepper, and 1/3 cup of olive oil in a bowl whisking well. Place the chicken thighs in a large zip locked bag and pour over the marinade. Seal the bag and massage the ingredients until the chicken is evenly coated. refrigerate for 4-8 hours or overnight.
Preheat grill and clean off any excess remnants. Brush and oil the grill to clean.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and season the chicken with a little extra salt. Grill the chicken for 4 minutes and then rotate the chicken 90 degrees. Grill for another 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and grill for another 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure to check and see if the chicken has been cooked well prior to serving (no pink on the inside - internal temperature of 165).