July the Fourth is near, and that means barbecue. It is an old American tradition, and a most delicious one. Barbecues in America go all the way back to colonial times, where easy access to inexpensive meat and wood meant delicious grassfed feasts cooked with logs burned down to coals. Barbecues were huge social events, often drawing hundreds or even thousands of people, lured by the ancient pleasure of pastured and wild meat cooked with fire.
But today, many are afraid to barbecue, being concerned by studies that find that suspected carcinogenic substances are created by the barbecue process.
Not to worry. Even if these studies are accurate, you can avoid the cooking method that creates the suspect substances by using traditional techniques, which are perfect for cooking grassfed and pastured meats.
What the Studies Found
I was concerned by these studies, and I must admit I stopped barbecuing for awhile. But I really missed the wonderful flavor that can only come from real barbecue, so I decided to take a close look at the studies. I wanted to resolve this paradox. The healthy peoples studied by Dr. Weston A. Price nearly all barbecued most of their meat and fish, and they had no cancer, despite the modern studies stating that barbecuing created carcinogens. Just as puzzling was the fact that humans have been cooking with fire for uncounted thousands of years, yet cancer is a very modern disease, unknown among people eating a traditional diet. If cooking with fire created cancer, humanity might have died out a long time ago. There had to be another explanation.
I decided to start by looking at the raw data. The studies found that barbecuing created two substances that were believed to be carcinogenic. One substance was created by cooking meat over direct high heat, especially when the flames touched the meat. The second substance was created when fat from the meat dripped directly on to the heat source, which created a smoke that went into the meat.
The key is that these substances were created only when the meat was cooked directly over the heat source.
Traditional Barbecue Methods Avoid the Creation of Carcinogens
My next step was to study the barbecuing methods of traditional peoples, which I did. What I found was fascinating. Most traditional barbecue was never done directly over the heat source. This was true for most peoples all over the world, and over time. The meat was cooked in front of, never directly over the heat source. The meat was invariably cooked over a container to catch the drippings, which were used for basting and as a condiment. This meant that the meat was never cooked over direct high heat, and never touched by the flames. This also meant that fat never dripped into the fire.
There were some exceptions to this rule. Some traditional peoples grilled directly over the fire, but set the grill so high over the coals that the heat was gentle, and the flames never touched the meat. Some European cooks grilled directly over the fire. The people who wrote older cookbooks looked down on this practice, stating that it gave “a noisome stink” to the meat, or that it was the mark of a bad cook.
Some peoples cooked small pieces of heavily marinated meat over a small fire, but this was the exception. Even these people kept the heat of the fire low, and kept the flames from touching the meat. Interestingly enough, the studies found that marinating meat reduced the formation of the suspect substances by 90 percent or more.
In other words, the cooking method that creates the carcinogens was not used by most traditional peoples. Use their methods, and you will not create the potential carcinogens mentioned in the studies.
But What about the Smoke?
A number of articles have been published over the Internet that point out the toxins given off by burning wood. But this is not a problem in traditional barbecue. That is because the most common fuel was one hundred percent hardwood charcoal. Charcoal is made by burning wood under controlled conditions. The toxic chemicals burn off during the process, and are gone by the time the charcoal is made. This process goes back many thousands of years.
Barbecue experts and traditional peoples did not cook over blazing raw wood, but made sure to burn the wood down to coals before cooking. Burning the wood down to coals also burns off the toxic chemicals, which literally go up in smoke.
So you can avoid the toxins in raw wood smoke by using one hundred percent hardwood charcoal, or burning your wood down to coals. These are the most traditional ways of using wood for cooking.
How to Adapt the Tradition to Modern Barbecues
Cooking in front of, not over the fire, is very different from the way most Americans grill. Grilling over direct high heat results in the creation of the substances mentioned in the studies. I believe that this method was created to deal with the extra water in factory meat, which requires direct high heat to be somewhat palatable rather than grey and soggy.
But grassfed meat, including steaks and burgers, cooks beautifully in front of, not over the heat source. The meat is never scorched or charred, and picks up a wonderful flavor from the coals. You can avoid the risks and have a perfect cooking method for grassfed barbecue by cooking in front of, not over the heat source.
This cooking method is used in all the recipes in Tender Grassfed Barbecue, and is the method I use whenever I barbecue. This July 4th, we are going to enjoy a beautiful thick prime rib steak, cut from a beautiful grassfed roast we got from U.S. Wellness Meats. And we will enjoy without fear, following the tradition of our ancestors.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.