Literatus: Grilled fancy

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I LOVE the smoky accent of grilled pork chop as well as grilled fish. Francis Mallman wrote in Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way: "I believe that the ability to cook meat over a wood fire is inborn in all of us--A great grill master combines skill with acute intuition."

However, when I stumbled upon it in studies I reviewed lately, the study results surprised me. One such noted grilled meat is "easy" on our arteries; meaning, they do cause buildup of unwanted bad cholesterol plaques and perhaps also free radicals. But these findings are qualified ones.

The reasons are, first, grilling needs only a quick spray of cooking oil (unlike frying) to keep the meat slice from sticking on the grill; second, much of the saturated fats in well-marbled meats drip down into the pit and never return.


Now, I said "qualified" because grilling does have one serious danger "if" improperly done. It builds up a group of cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). They appear when fats char or meat gets exposed to the smoke created by fat dripping on the coals. This buildup increases the longer meat cooks on the grill.

However, there are proven ways of grilling that avoid this HCA buildup from occurring or at least at very tolerable level.

First, start with less fat. The fewer the fat in the meat, the fewer fat drips that strike the coal underneath and create an HCA-rich flare-ups. Pick and trim away excess fat before you start cooking, sacrificing the unique savor of grilled fat.

Second, cook small and lean. Thick pieces takes more time on the grill and risk more smoke and flare-ups from dripping fats. Even lean meat has its own load of muscle fats. And cooking thin slices gets done faster. Alternatively, grilled seafood, vegetables or fruits do not create substantial HCAs.

Third, never grill directly over the coals. That's exactly what exposes the meat to fat flare-ups and smoke. Let the coals fully heat. Divide the coals into two piles: one pile keep to the rightmost side of the grill pan and another to the leftmost side. Cook over the coal-less area in the middle; the heat of the coals on both sides will be enough to cook the meat in-between. This reduces the amount HCAs formed.

Fourth, preheat the grill to prevent harmful bacteria from forming, especially if you precook the meat in a microwave or stove to reduce grilling time and reduce HCA buildup by 90 percent.

Fifth, cover the meat with marinades of fruits or vegetables. These taste-enhancing add-ons help protect against the buildup of HCAs. Their juices chemically neutralize HCAs that start to buildup during cooking.

Enjoy grilling. or visit

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 23, 2014.


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