Summer Traditions

Yes, the days may be growing a bit shorter, and the newspaper ads are already threatening us with "back to school" sales. But it's still summertime, right? And the season holds so many wonderful, familiar traditions: a swim at the beach, the sweet taste of a big fat triangle of watermelon, balmy evening strolls, baseball games, carnival rides, parades, festivals, and fireworks!

Other summer traditions? Well some aren't quite so cherished: boring reruns and sitting around sweating, or alternatively, cranking that noisy wasteful air conditioner up to "high" and then suffering the power outages that happen when everyone else does the same thing.

But one summer tradition almost everyone enjoys? The backyard barbecue!

Many Americans enjoy grilled food.

Yes, this is the time of year when 99% of the population says "Yippeeee! Let's fire up the coals and cook us some delicious burgers/dogs/chicken/tofu-veggie kabobs/ostrich patties!"

The other 1% of us? We sit around fretting about all the HCA's and PAH's.

So what are HCA's and PAH's?

Well, they're carcinogens. They form when you grill meat. Well-done red meat is particularly problematic.

Carcinogens? That doesn't sound good.

What's the point of stuffing ourselves with boatloads of all those virtuous anti-cancer foods if we're going to cancel out all that virtue with a simple backyard barbecued burger?

All for nothing? Dang!

But I have to confess I LOVE the taste of cancer-burgers and cancer-dogs and cancer-chicken and cancer-steaks. And the mouth-watering smell... How are we meat-eaters supposed to resist that char-grilled aroma when it's hard-wired into our cave-woman and cave-man brains?

(Sorry, all you vegetarians and vegans. But I'm guessing you were long gone at the first sight of that burger picture).

How to deal with this summertime dilemma?

My Previous Barbecue Strategy:

1. Try to limit barbecuing to when we are (a) camping or (b) having company. (Despite the fact that The Lobster* is an excellent and enthusiastic griller of meats).

(*The Lobster=My Significant Other, for those who are new here).

2. When the Lobster is finally permitted to fire up the grill, mention repeatedly at the grocery store (in a whiny voice) that barbecued meats cause cancer. Sigh when approaching the meat counter.

3. Announce that while everyone else might be having steak or burgers, I will make myself have a garden burger or a slab of tofu or a veggie kebab instead. Or maybe at least choose chicken or fish.

4. Think about it some more.

5. Guiltily throw an extra package of burgers and/or steaks into the shopping cart.

6. Once the Evil Meat is cooked, have seconds because it tastes so damn good.

Admittedly, not a particularly effective strategy.

Good thing it turns out there are other ways besides guilt and whining to deal with the grilled meats issue. Who knew?

Better Barbecuing Strategies:

1. Marinade! Even a few minutes helps get rid of a whole bunch of the nasty carcinogens, and grocery store dry mixes are apparently fine. This marinade study found marinading reduces HCA's by 87%. The level of reduced HCA's seemed to correlate to the amount of antioxidants present in the marinades.

"The marinade containing rosemary and thyme had the greatest effect on reducing HCAs, but two other marinades with different herbs seasonings were tested and found to be almost as effective. The rosemary/thyme marinade also contained pepper, allspice and salt. Another marinade included oregano, thyme, garlic and onion. A third marinade had oregano, garlic, basil, onion and parsley."

I’ve also read that acidic marinades are good, like those containing lemon or vinegar.

2. Choose wisely: the American Institute of Cancer Research says the grilling of meat is only a small part of the problem--it's what we grill that's getting us in trouble. Because of the link to colorectal cancer, they recommend we limit red meat to 18 ounces a week and avoid processed meats entirely.

3. Pre-cook in the microwave. Then toss out the juice, where a lot of the carcinogens are hiding.

4. Select small cuts of meat, like kebabs.

5. Choose lean cuts of meat and avoid fat dripping on the coals and causing flare-ups.

6. Flip Frequently.

Um, I meant flip the meat.

7. Avoid really high heat: Use a gas grill, or if using charcoal, don't cook meat too close to the coals

8. Don't Cook the Hell out of It. This one doesn't bother me, as I'm a medium-rare kinda gal, but those of you who like your red meat dry and brown and tasteless well done should probably indulge in grilling only "rarely."

So did this post sound somewhat familiar? Sorry about that!

Remember those other summer traditions I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the air conditioners and power outages and summer reruns? Well, the power went off Sunday afternoon as I was in the middle of researching a post about something else entirely. Since our cable modem needs electricity, and my laptop batteries had a only a small reserve of power, I thought rather than have no post at all, I’d partake of that Dreaded Summer Tradition, the “Rerun.”

Later in the evening, the power indeed came back on! And then went off again. So I'm afraid this is a very slightly edited version of a post that went up last year. But I'm hoping that if you already read it, you’re like me and don't remember a damn thing about it!

So do any of you worry about grilling meat and getting cancer, or is it only me who’s paranoid?

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