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How to Make This Year’s BBQ Season Even Better

By Martha Michael

National BBQ Day

Sandwiched between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is a firmly placed celebration known as National BBQ Day. Grill masters typically kick off their favorite foodie pastime in May as warmer weather prevails for a few months.

Be Aware of Health Risks

Nearly everyone knows the enticing taste of barbecue sauce and the joy of biting into a juicy steak or burger (or veggie burger if you prefer). But not everyone is aware that there are safety hazards where grilling is concerned. According to, there are health risks to barbecuing your food, but there are ways you can mitigate them by altering your barbecue methods.

When meat is charred it becomes carcinogenic. At high temperatures, muscle meats -- including poultry, beef, fish or pork -- develop chemicals known as heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.

If you’re served a piece of meat with skin that’s turned black from excessive temperatures, you can skin it or cut around the charred areas. If you’re the cook, there are things you can do to offset or prevent the formation of HCAs:

Reduce heat - Because carcinogenic compounds are triggered when meat is cooked at high temperatures, cook your food at 325 degrees or less to minimize the chance that HCAs begin forming. Also, by cutting the meat into smaller portions it cooks in less time, which reduces the time for the formation of carcinogens.

Use a spatula - When meat is stabbed it can incite the formation of HCAs, says the National Cancer Institute. Spearing meat with a fork releases juices which drip and increase the smoky effect, causing carcinogens to form. Flip the meat instead.

Pre-cook the meat - Grillers who are cautious about cancer-causing chemicals sometimes cook the meat in a microwave before placing it on the barbecue. It serves two health-inducing purposes: The juice bleeds out of the meat before it hits the barbecue, which reduces harmful smoke, and it stays on the grill for a shorter amount of time, curtailing the chance of charring.

Change Your Choices

You may salivate at the thought of juicy pork chops or beef ribs coming off the barbecue, but you don’t have to be a committed carnivore to fire up the grill. It’s a tough sell for Americans to change their preferences because old habits die hard. According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 72 percent of respondents said they grill hot dogs, followed closely by steaks, hamburgers and chicken -- in that order.

In 2020, tabulated the 13 BBQ recipes that were clicked on most often and meat was still the main player. Foods that made the list include:

  • Baby back pork ribs
  • Beef short ribs
  • Hamburger
  • Grilled salmon
  • Chicken breasts
  • Paella

Unfortunately, Americans also score big for high blood pressure, obesity, and other problems associated with overeating. Cutting back on meat intake has been a consistent dietary recommendation for generations, but it doesn’t mean you need to give up on the grill. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are commonplace among cookout enthusiasts.


  • Squash
  • Snap peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Bell peppers
  • Onions


  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Apples
  • Figs
  • Pumpkins

Even if you get the entrees under control, watch out for side dishes -- they can be worse for you than some of the meat choices. Typical dishes such as coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, or baked beans are high in calories and may provide a significant percentage of your recommended daily fat intake. Consider fresh fruit or a salad to accompany your hamburger at your next backyard BBQ.

Barbecue Tips

If you’re taking a turn for the healthier, you want to bring others along for the ride, and the best way to do that is to make it tasty. The National Day Calendar offers tips for grilling at home to maximize flavor and make the job easier.

Use top tools - Barbecue tool sets are popular gifts this time of year, especially for gourmet grillers. Each device serves a different purpose.

  • Basting brushes come in all sizes, but for the barbecue be sure it has a long handle. You can also purchase a brush that’s dishwasher safe to make cleanup easier.
  • Tongs enable you to turn over vegetables instead of taking the time to create kabobs. Stabbing meat with a fork can drain some of the juices; investing in a set of tongs can provide the means to up your grill game.
  • Thermometers set the weekend meat lovers apart from the gourmet grillers. Choosing the temperature enables you to customize the meal and serve it up rare for some guests and well done for others.

Recipe - Knowing your crowd is a good start when you scroll through the best recipe choices. If they’re sensitive to spicy food or dislike sloppy, messy food, you can choose your rubs and sauces accordingly.

Cook it slowly - On top of reducing the risk of carcinogens forming, grilling champs claim that cooking meat low-and-slow gives you the most tender turnout.

Soak it first - You can lengthen the grill time with wood chips, which can make your meat taste smokier. Soak the chips in water for a half-hour before barbecuing your food and they will smolder, not burn.

Rest it afterwards - Recipes often suggest you allow your meat to rest after you pull it off the grill. Wait at least five minutes before slicing the meat and give it 10-20 minutes for larger cuts.

Whether you dream of a juicy steak or relish the idea of teriyaki tofu, the grill can be your best friend this summer. Making an effort to reduce charring, while substituting fruits and vegetables where you can, means your family and friends can share the patio table for many more years to come.

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