Safe Summer Outdoor Dining

Filed Under: General Health, Food and Nutrition

Summer time always brings back-to-back yard basics, gathering on decks and patios to reconnect with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. There is something just so primitive about sitting around a fire source as our ancestors have for centuries to warm ourselves as well as to celebrate rituals, tell stories, sing and chant, or dance to an eternal drum beat. All that is conjured up in spirit as we move outside in warmer months to be more at one with the earth.

But we need be mindful that we face more toxic substances with our artificial fires than in days gone by. For example, Dr. Sinatra and I used to love to barbeque chicken until I realized that grilling any meat over an open flame increases its carcinogenic potential twenty-fold! For a while, Dr. Sinatra even hung up his tongs and put the grill into semi-retirement until we learned some safer ways to grill.

Safe Summer Grilling Basics

Charcoal grilling releases carcinogenic agents—called PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCA’s (heterocyclic amines)—as fat drips off the meat and onto charcoal. The longer the cook time, the more HCA’s are released by the fat in “muscle meats” whether they are broiled or pan-fried. The National Cancer Institute has identified 17 different HCA’s that we may be getting from pork, fish and foul (not just grilled meats) that increase our risk for colorectal and breast cancers.

Your best option is to use a propane-fueled gas grill.  Unlike charcoal that “burns dirty,” releasing sooty particles that produce natural hydrocarbons, gas grills burn clean.  Plus, you don’t have to worry about dangerous carcinogenic agents like you would with charcoal grilling.

Next, you want to make sure you’re practicing safe food handling.  Because outdoor barbecue grilling involves dry heat, many of us like to marinate food ahead of time to tenderize and flavor it. Dr. Sinatra and I are big marinade fans, but I always keep meats refrigerated during the marinating process.  If I want additional sauce, I set a portion of the marinade aside.  Or, if I decide to flavor the sauce with some of the meat juices, I make to sure to boil it first for at least one minute.

In addition to marinating your meat safely, you want to make sure it’s cooked thoroughly. I like my meat on the medium rare side, to preserve the nutritious enzymes they contain. But I make sure it’s heated up properly to avoid unwanted bacteria.  I cook vegetables the same way—using simple healthy seasonings like garlic and olive oil.

It’s also important to never serve your food on the same plate you used when you brought it out to the grill. The raw juices are full of bacteria. Keep your meat hot; the side of the grill rack is perfect for that. And, of course, scrub up that rack after each grilling so it’s clean for next time!

Finally, you can protect yourself from the high temperatures of barbeque grilling by marinating with a sauce that's 10 percent plain soy sauce and 1 percent sugar. See our August 12, 2009 blog for the recipe, and another discussion on COPs and HCAs, the highly carcinogenic compounds released from the fat of muscle meats.

For even more information on cardiovascular nutrition or other health concerns, visit

DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

Enjoy What You've Just Read?

Get it delivered to your inbox! Signup for E-News and you'll get great content like you've just read along with other great tips and guides from Dr. Sinatra!

Related Articles & Categories