8 Tips for a Healthy and Tasty BBQ Season

June 3, 2021

By Anna Varriano

BBQ season is finally here! One of my favourite summer time activities is to have an entire main course cooking on the grill while I enjoy my backyard…and the dinner guests who are joining me!

Before Sparking Up, Read This!

Barbecuing foods – meat in particular (I’ll be using the word meat as a catch-all to include red meat, pork, poultry, and fish) – leads to the formation of  two compounds: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These compounds have been shown to cause tumours in animals and some sources state that they may also increase the risk of certain cancers (breast, colon, stomach, and prostate) in humans. That’s the not-so-good news. The good news is that in this month’s article, I’m sharing some tips that will limit/prevent the formation of HCAs and PAHs so that you can enjoy healthy and delicious summer-time cooking! So without further ado, here they are!

# 1 – Parboil before you grill

Parboiling is simply boiling (or steaming)  meats until they are partially cooked. Parboiling before grilling is great for chicken, sausages, and ribs. Since the meat will be partially cooked before you grill it, it needs less time on the grill. The less time meats are grilled, the less time there is for the formation of HCAs and PAHs. To parboil meat (again, think chicken, sausages, and ribs – I’ve never parboiled steak – can’t imagine it would be good!), simply place the meat in a large pot of boiling water and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove with tongs, season as desired, then grill. Other benefits of parboiling include more tender meat and avoiding under-cooked BBQ chicken or pork.

#2 – Keep the pieces of meat that you’re grilling small

Smaller pieces of meat need shorter grilling times. Buy smaller cuts of meat and/or cut meat into small pieces, including small cubes for shish-kebabs and skewers. I bet that most of you are familiar with a couple of common guidelines when it comes to how much meat you should eat at mealtimes. One of these is that the piece of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards; the other is that it should be about the size of the palm of your hand. Right about now, I bet the meat-lovers reading this are running around the house looking for a deck of cards so they can put it in the palm of their hand to see which one is bigger! A guideline that I follow is that meat makes up no more than  ¼ of my meal/plate, with the rest being veggies, as in the photo below. Veggies are full of powerful cancer-fighting vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can also help to ‘neutralize’ the potential negative health effects of HCAs and PAHs from grilled meats. Bonus! Eat your veggies…and strive for many different colours on your plate!

grilled dinner


#3 – Reduce the drippings

Drippings can hit the flames and cause grilling flare-ups that will char the meat. You can reduce drippings and flare-ups by:

  • Trimming excess fat and skin from meats before grilling
  • Using tongs, grilling baskets, or other utensils that will not pierce the meat when you are flipping/turning it over
  • Parboiling also helps to reduce the fat (especially for ribs and sausages)
  • If flare-ups do happen, have a spray bottle filled with water on hand to get them under control

#4 – Flip the meat frequentlygrilled salmon burgers

Flipping the meat frequently helps to avoid over-cooking and charring.

#5 – Use lower temperatures

Cooking temperature has been identified as the most important contributor to the formation of HCAs and PAHs. Using lower temperature cooking has been shown to decrease the formation of these compounds.

#6 – Marinate

Marinating meats for at least 30 minutes before grilling has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of HCAs and PAHs created during grilling.

marinating chickenIf you Google “marinade for _____” (fill in the blank with your favourite meat), you’ll get loads of options. I usually don’t follow recipes to make marinades; I just wing it by mixing together something savory (e.g. tamari sauce), something acidic (e.g. fresh lemon juice or some type of cooking vinegar), something sweet (e.g. a splash of honey or maple syrup), a bit of oil (usually olive, or sesame oil) and something aromatic (garlic, fresh and/or dried herbs, and spices).

I’m sharing a few very basic marinade recipes at the end of this article. You can increase or decrease the amounts proportionately so that you have enough for the amount of meat you’ll be grilling. Generally, you will need half a cup of marinade for every pound of meat. The meat doesn’t have to be completely submerged in the marinade; just make sure that you turn it frequently so that all sides of it get a good chance to get coated and soaked. My preference is to use a glass container to marinate foods.  I encourage you to be creative and add whatever you like to these marinades, and/or invent your own unique combination. 

#7 – Cut off the burnt bits

If despite your best efforts, there are charred or burnt bits on your grilled meat, cut them off before eating.

#8 – Think outside the (BBQ) box

When we think of grilling, we often just think of meat. Grilled veggies are amazing (and as an added bonus, they are less of a risk regarding HCAs and PAHs). You can grill just about any veggie, or combination of veggies, for a wonderful side dish – and some grilled veggies make great meat substitutes, like my Portabello Mushroom Cap Burgers. My go-to method for grilling veggies is to toss them in a few TBSPs of olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of sea salt before putting them on the grill. Sometimes I toss in some crumbled sheep feta when the veggies are still warm (when they’re grilled and have been taken out of the grilling basket of course!). Mmmm! How many different kind of veggies can you find in this batch of grilled veggies I made? :o)

grilled veggies

Here is one more suggestion when it comes to grilling: avoid wrapping things in aluminum foil to cook them on the grill (or any other way for that matter). Cooking in aluminum foil is going to add aluminum to your food, and although current research is inconclusive, some suggest there is a link between the accumulation of aluminum in the body (through any means) and an increase in certain diseases, in particular, Alzheimer’s Disease. When it comes to my health, I prefer to error on the side of caution and take control of what I can, so I choose to avoid using aluminum foil when it comes to any kind of cooking.

And finally, here are three basic marinade ideas to get your creative (and digestive) juices flowing! The instructions for all three of these marinades are the same – simply put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until they are well blended. Add the chicken/fish/beef and marinate in the refrigerator for as little as 30 minutes or as long as 3 hours..

 Mediterranean Chicken Marinade

This marinade makes a delicious ‘Greek’ flavoured chicken. Serve with a big Greek or green salad and you’re all set! Makes 1/2 a cup.

  • ¼ cup of olive oilgrilled chicken
  • ¼ cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
  • ½ to 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • A pinch of sea salt


 Asian Inspired Fish Marinade

This marinade is perfect for salmon. Makes about 1/2 a cup.

  • 1/4 cup of organic tamari  saucegrilled asian salmon
  • 2 TBSP of olive oil
  • 2 TBSP of rice vinegar
  • 1 TBSP of maple syrup or unpasteurized local honey
  • 1 TBSP of sesame oil
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 TBSP of fresh ginger, minced

Red Wine Steak Marinade

This is a great marinade for steaks and cubes of beef for shish-kebabs. Makes about 1 cup.

  • 1/2 cup of red winegrilled steak
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 TBSP of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp each of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp each of oregano and ground cumin…or any herb/spice you like with your steak! (optional)



Privacy Policy