A lot, according to some recently compiled statistics.
A survey from Whole Foods Market reported that baking and grilling are "overwhelmingly the top two preparation methods" of more than a third of those surveyed across the country. Equation Research conducted the survey of 1,000 respondents. The survey examined attitudes about natural meat and meat consumption.
About three-quarters of the respondents said they like to grill chicken most, followed by steak (two-thirds) and hamburgers (nearly two-thirds).
Eighty percent of the respondents said they eat fresh meat or poultry at least three times a week, with 27 percent saying they eat it five to six times a week, and more than a third (35 percent) reporting that they eat meat three to four times a week.
If you love the crispy, charred, blackened bits on grilled meats, just sigh heavily. They're one more thing that's bad for you.
Cancer researchers say grilling or broiling red meat, poultry and fish (the so-called "muscle meats") can create compounds called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. The compounds cause tumors in animals, and may increase risk of breast, colon, stomach and prostate cancers in humans, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research.
Also, flare-ups caused when fat drips into the grill's flames create another cancer-causing substance, the Institute said. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are deposited on grilling foods. That's another good reason to choose lean cuts for the grill.
The dangers worsen for those who prefer their meat medium-well to well-done, said the National Cancer Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The institute reported that people who like their meat rare or medium-rare had less than a third the rates of stomach cancer as those who cooked their meat longer.
The risk is connected to both time and cooking temperature. Grilling and broiling are high-heat methods of cooking, while oven-roasting and baking are done at lower temperatures. Stewing, boiling and poaching create few HCAs, the cancer institute said.
Other protein types -- cheese, eggs, tofu and organ meats -- pose no risk. Grilled fruits and vegetables also are perfectly safe.
The AICR said some studies have shown that marinating foods reduces HCAs by as much as 92 to 99 percent, although no one is sure why.
For more information, including a printable brochure called "The Facts About Grilling," visit the institute's Web site, aicr.org (click on "publications," then "brochures"; scroll to the bottom to find the brochure by title). Or call 800-843-8114.
Here are some tips from the pros that will give you great lean meals every time.
Rubs offer an excellent way to get huge flavor with virtually no calories or fat. They are the fastest way to add flavor to meats for the grill: Just rub and go straight to the fire. Make big batches of rubs; they'll keep over the grilling season. (Don't contaminate the storage jar by dipping your hand into it; put what you expect to use into a bowl first.)
Cookbook author Cheryl Jamison reminded us that high-quality ingredients are as important for rubs as they are for any other kind of cooking. "If you can't remember when you bought the spices, it's time to replace them," she said.
Though it might seem counterintuitive to oil the grill's grate, cookbook author and television host Steven Raichlen said it is important to do so.
"I always say, 'Keep it hot, keep it clean and keep it lubricated,"' Raichlen said. "The reason to oil the grill is twofold. One is that it keeps the food from sticking, and the other is that it makes better grill marks. I wouldn't worry in the least about fat on the grill. Almost all the surplus oil burns away so fast that there's nothing to worry about."
Raichlen uses oil fairly lavishly on seafood. "Because it's so lean," he said. "If dipping it into oil bothers you, then just paint it on with a paint brush."
For newspaper columnist and author Don Mauer, one of the best tips is to "serve really flavorful sauces with the cooked meat because saucing on the grill is really hard. Most sauces have a lot of sugars in them, and they tend to burn into a bitter, crunchy, unpleasant thing. It's much easier to have a great big-flavored sauce to serve with the finished meat.
"A lot of people think grilling has to be this multistage thing. I don't think it needs to be; it can be simple and easy. It makes everyone's lives very easy, and (saucing the finished meat) lets you and your guests finish it the way they want, adjusting the spiciness and so forth."
Finally, Raichlen said, "Don't forget dessert. Dessert on the grill is great." He suggested brushing slices of fresh pineapple with low-fat coconut milk and cinnamon sugar, or brushing molasses onto bananas, before grilling them.
Grilling more healthfully is a good idea, all three pros agreed. But it's important to make the experience a pleasure, rather than a penance.
"In the end, what helps people live longer and happier is having fun and enjoying a meal, rather than regarding it as medicine," Raichlen said. "If you look at Julia Child, who made it to 91, she wasn't sweating fat grams and calories. Pleasure itself is the best medicine."

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