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BBQ is a summer tradition not just in the USA, but over much of the world. Variously spelled BBQ, barbecue, Bar-B-Q, Bar-B-Que, and, in South Africa, braai, BBQ refers to a method and apparatus for cooking meat, as well as the cooked meat itself.

BBQ- best summer activity

BBQ may involve cooking meat with the smoke and heat of a wood fire, charcoal, gas, or electricity. It may or may not involve the use of spice rubs, marinades, or basting sauce. BBQ is traditionally cooked outdoors, but restaurants may use indoor brick or metal ovens especially designed for barbecuing.

BBQ has many regional variations, and different parts of the English-speaking world use different words to describe the techniques of cooking meat. In the US and Canada, BBQ is a slow cooking process using indirect heat or smoke, while grilling and broiling are fast cooking processes using direct heat. Food is placed directly over the heat source to grill or under the heat source to broil, but to the side or on a rack away from the heat source to make BBQ. This is also the process used to make the Argentinean asado and the Brazilian churrasco.

In the UK, Australia, and New Zealand barbecuing refers to a fast cooking process over high heat, while grilling refers to a fast cooking process under high heat. There are further differences in the use of the word to describe home and commercial cooking processes. Most American BBQ restaurants use a smoker with a separate fire box, the meat cooked over a period of 8 to 24 hours with the heat of smoke alone. Most home barbecuers cook meat over a much shorter time period.

From a health perspective, the common concerns about barbecue are:

  • Food-borne infections,
  • Carcinogens created by high heat, and
  • Indoor and outdoor air pollution.

Let's take a look at each of these safety issues separately.

Food-borne infections

The most common food-borne infections affecting BBQ are Clostridium botulinum, the microorganism that causes botulism, and Campylobacter, the microorganism that causes cramps, fever, gum pain, and bloody diarrhea that usually cannot be controlled by antibiotics. Both complications are rare but potentially deadly consequences of poor food handling.

The key to preventing Clostridium infection is to use acid in marinades. A dash of vinegar, lemon juice, or cherry juice in the marinade stops the growth of the bacteria that cause botulism. Ten minutes exposure to high heat, 175° F/80° C or higher, kills the bacteria that remain.

The key to preventing Campylobacter is cleanliness. Simply washing your hands before and after handling raw meat will prevent cross-contamination of infected meat with any other foods you serve at your BBQ, and cooking meat thoroughly will kill the bacteria. It's more important to cook poultry thoroughly than any other kind of meat--an interior temperature of 180° F/85 C° is required to kill all the bacteria that can lodge in the thickest pieces of chicken, while as little as 120° F/50° C is OK for beef, 135° F/60 C° for lamb, and 160° F/75° for pork.

In the United States, where barbecuing is traditionally a process for making tough cuts of meat tender by a very long cooking process, contamination of the barbecue itself is very rare. Only when the cooked meat comes in contact with containers, platters, or plastic bags that held contaminated meat is any kind of bacterial contamination likely to be a problem. The South African braai and South American asado and churrasco are also likely to be safe. European quick-cooking methods, on the other hand, are much more likely to result in contaminated meat.

Continue reading after recommendations

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  • Bjeldanes LF, Morris MM, Felton JS, et al. Mutagens from the cooking of food. II. Survey by Ames/Salmonella test of mutagen formation in the major protein-rich foods of the American diet. Food and Chemical Toxicology 1982, 20(4):357-363
  • Nader CJ, Spencer LK, Weller RA. Mutagen production during pan-broiling compared with microwave irradiation of beef. Cancer Letter 1981, 13(2):147-152
  • Stavric B. Biological significance of trace levels of mutagenic heterocycylic aromatic amines in human diet: A critical review. Food and Chemical Toxicology 1994, 32(10):977-994

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