Tips for a healthier barbecue

Summertime salads, grilled meat and fish, gathering with friends and family – you can’t beat a barbecue. But wait a minute… isn’t our penchant for barbecue meant to be a health risk, associated with everything from obesity to heart disease and cancers, not to mention food poisoning? Before you throw out the charcoal, here’s how to make your barbecue a little healthier.

What are the health risks?

Yes, we know that grilling meats at high temperature over charcoal generates carcinogenic chemicals known as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines), and that these are even worse if you prefer your meat well done (or burnt) – but let’s put things into perspective.

The occasional barbecue is not going to be as much of a health risk as being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating your body weight in sugar, so as long as you are not overdoing the chargrilled foods, then it’s unlikely to be a major health risk.

Herbs and spices like rosemary, garlic and turmeric have been shown to minimise the formation of these harmful chemicals, and marinading meat can mean it cooks at a lower temperature, so pack these spices into marinades and dressings.

Burgers and sausages with all the trimmings, packed info a white floury bap, are a tasty treat packed with saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and sugar from your choice of sauce. Instead, choose fish or lean meats and pack in as many fruit and veg as you can, in the form of salads and kebabs.

Poorly cooked meat and mixing raw meat with hot sunny days can increase our risk of food poisoning, so beware of food hygiene. Remember the basic rules like making sure food is completely defrosted before cooking, storing raw meats away from cooked food and checking use-by dates. See for useful tips on food safety for barbecues.

Here are some of my favourite things for a healthy barbecue:

:: Explore the fish counter at your supermarket. Whole fish like seabass or trout are lovely barbecued, and healthier than grilled meats. Stuff the fish with lemon and herbs, like thyme and rosemary, and place on the grill for about three to five minutes each side.

:: Marinade prawns in lime juice with chilli, lemongrass and ginger and then thread on to a skewer and grill for a couple of minutes on each side until they turn pink and are cooked through.

:: Try halloumi and vegetable kebabs – chop up a selection of vegetables like courgettes, red onion, colourful peppers, and thread on to skewers with cubes of halloumi and cherry tomatoes.

:: Slice a large aubergine into rings and grill until golden. Marinate in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and lots of chopped garlic.

:: If you are having a barbecue with family and friends, ask your guests to bring a salad each. You never know what you’ll end up with, but it is certain to be varied and tasty.

:: Make up a simple salad of tomatoes with basil. Add a pinch of sea salt, some good quality olive oil and leave to marinade before serving.

:: Homemade slaw is much tastier (and healthier) than shop-bought. Shred some red or white cabbage, add grated carrot and finely sliced red onion. For a lighter dressing than mayo, whisk up some natural yoghurt with lemon juice and olive oil, season with sea salt and black pepper and pour over the shredded vegetables.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 26 May 2018.