Thoughts of nature, camping adventures, and relaxing weekends often occupy our minds when we think about charcoal grilling. Still, there’s more to this food preparation method than its outdoor benefits.
Being the efficient fuel source that it is, charcoal allows for a cost-effective grilling approach. It gives us that rich, smoky, and charred flavor that we love in our meats and vegetables. Is grilling with charcoal really the health hazard other claims deem it to be?
According to YardTrend, charcoal grilling is still among the healthier food preparation methods out there. It might not be as healthy as gas or electric grilling, but it definitely doesn’t put you at high risk for health complications.
It’s the Char, Not the Charcoal
Grilled food has been around since the beginning of time. It’s how our ancestors used to cook the meat from their hunts, and it’s how many of us give our recipes a healthy twist today. Americans are known to make time for backyard barbecues with friends and family, as it’s one of the best and most fulfilling ways to bond outdoors.
The ‘60s belonged to the propane grills, but right on its heels was charcoal grilling. Many prefer the latter for outdoor activities because of its simplicity and flavor-rich results.
That said, it’s hard to ignore common misconceptions about this brand of cooking being bad for you. While it’s that true the approach can create volatile compounds in the food, it’s not nearly as serious as the naysayers make it seem.
What Is It About Char?
Somewhat tainting the popularity of this grilling approach were publications about charcoal being bad for you. However, it was soon revealed that it wasn’t the charcoal, per se, that was a potential health risk; it was the char.
Char is created when the liquids from food being grilled drip onto the charcoal and rise back up to the food in its vaporized form. It’s a crisp, delicious layer that holds a lot of flavors but also produces cancer-linked compounds. The presence of carcinogens in char is what has led to publications about avoiding charred food.
How high or low exactly are the chances that these compounds lead to cancer? Experts don’t exactly have an answer yet, which is why there’s also yet to be a standard on how much-charred food you can consume before increasing your risk.
Healthier Grilling Using Charcoal
There are ways to minimize char formation in grilled food. As it is, charcoal grilling is already among the healthier food preparation methods out there. But did you know there are ways to make its outcomes even healthier?
1. Make sure the meat isn’t in the way of direct heat.
Ideally, you want your meat on the opposite side of the grill from the coals. Keep this formation when cooking with the hood down, and you should prevent any flare-ups that lead to the production of cancer-causing compounds.
2. Keep char at a minimum.
Char is what makes grilled food grilled food. The unfortunate fact is, it poses a potential health risk in higher amounts. You want to keep the meat a shade of brown that gives it a firm enough exterior but never the kind of firm that comes from being burned to a crisp. This is often the reason people rarely ever go for well-done steaks.
3. Opt for additive-free charcoal and avoid lighter fluids.
Dangerous contaminants are produced when grills are started with lighter fluids. There are less riskier ways to start your fire, and this includes using the charcoal chimney starter.
4. Keep the temperature low.
Grill racks positioned too close to the fire can amp up the temperature levels, so keep them at a safer distance. Consider using charcoals that burn at lower temperatures, such as hickory and maple.
5. Clean and maintain your grill properly.
Proper grill maintenance involves emptying the grill of ashes and spraying the grates with oven cleaner after every use. Proceed to wipe the grill down with a cloth dipped in a water-and-detergent mixture. This should keep debris from building up over time and increasing the chances of carcinogens forming in your food.
6. Marinade the meat.
Marinating can work its magic on food. You can soak your food in something as simple as a vinegar mixture. In return, it reduces the amount of HCAs that form in meat grilled directly above an open fire or heated surface.
How Bad Is Charcoal Grilling, Exactly?
If you grill with charcoal in the ways mentioned, then it shouldn’t be bad for you at all. For one, it doesn’t involve as much grease or exposes your food to as many toxic substances as frying.
Charcoal grilling might not take the top spot when it comes to the healthiest grilling method (that title goes to electric grilling). However, when done right, it can still produce the healthy, richly flavored outcomes we all associate with grilled food.