By Stanley A. Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat
Is barbecue safe? There are a number of studies that conclude that eating barbecued meat creates carcinogenic substances. However, traditional peoples barbecued constantly and were free of cancer.
The studies all focused on meat grilled with modern methods, using very high direct heat. The traditional methods are very different. No study bothered to contrast the difference between modern grilling methods and traditional methods. In fairness, the researchers were almost certainly unaware of the dramatic difference in cooking methods.
The researchers’ solution is to stop eating barbecue. My solution is to change your cooking method to avoid the risk factors by barbecuing the way our ancestors did.
What the Researchers Found
The studies showed that grilling meat over direct high heat can cause the formation of substances known as HCAs, which are considered carcinogenic when given in large amounts to laboratory animals. HCAs are formed when meat is cooked with very high direct heat, especially when flames hit the meat, and a hard crust is formed by the searing heat.
The studies also found that fat dripping from the meat directly on to the heat source would be changed by the heat, and driven back into the meat as a carcinogenic substance.
What is crucial to understand is that both of these substances are created by grilling the meat directly over a very hot heat source, whether gas or charcoal briquets.
As far as I could tell, the barbecued meat used in the studies was cooked with modern fuels like charcoal briquets and propane gas.
Some researchers found that marinating meat reduced the amount of HCAs by as much as 100%.
How Traditional Barbecue Methods Avoid the Risk Factors
Traditional peoples did not barbecue over direct high heat. In fact, they did not barbecue directly over any heat source, unless the meat was so high over a low fire that there was no chance of flames hitting the meat, and the meat only received low heat.
The prerequisite for forming the carcinogenic substances found by the studies—direct high heat—was never used.
Meat was always cooked in front of, never over, the fire. The fire was always allowed to burn down to smoldering coals—nobody cooked directly over leaping flames. This method did not create hard charred crusts or grill marks, but a delicious, tender, browned coating.
Cooking grassfed meats over direct high heat will make them tough and inedible. Grassfed meats can be very tender when grilled by moderate to low indirect heat, which is how our ancestors grilled them.
Traditional peoples almost always marinated their meat before barbecuing it.
Traditional Peoples Used Different Fuels
Almost all barbecue cooked in the United States today is made over a very hot fire fueled by propane gas or charcoal briquets. Traditional peoples never used these fuels.
Charcoal briquets were invented by Henry Ford as a way to make money from the scrap wood left over from making automobiles. These briquets included many other ingredients besides wood scraps, including anthracite coal, petrochemicals, and various binding materials and chemicals. They were never used by humans before the 20th century, as they were invented in the 20th century.
The use of propane gas as a barbecue fuel also began in the 20th century.
Traditional peoples used various natural substances as fuel. The most common was wood, which was always burned down to coals before the cooking began, or lump hardwood charcoal, which was made by partially burning wood in a way that caused it to form charcoal. The art of charcoal burning goes back thousands of years.
Traditional Barbecue Is Better for Grassfed Meat
Factory meat contains much more water than grassfed meat, which means that it can withstand direct high heat. The most common way to ruin grassfed meat is to cook it over direct high heat. Grassfed meat can be wonderfully tender when cooked with traditional methods.
We can avoid the risk factors identified by the studies by never using direct high heat when barbecuing. We can barbecue like our ancestors did, using lump hardwood charcoal or wood coals for fuel. We can marinate our meat like they did. Not only is this way of cooking safer, it is ideally suited to cooking tender grassfed meat.
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.
This post is part of Monday Mania Blog Carnival at the Healthy Home Economist.
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