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Healthy-Up Your Hamburger

These sneaky tricks are the cherries-on-top when it comes to tasty, healthy burgers.

A tart cherry pie may be an Independence Day cookout favorite, but did you know you can use those sour red beauties to healthy-up your hamburgers, too? 

It may sound strange, but adding chopped tart cherries to your ground-meat mixture will make the hamburgers healthier and tastier. They'll be juicier and lower in fat, and they'll form far fewer carcinogens during high-heat grilling. 

The heat is on 
When meat is cooked at high temperatures or for too long, nasty compounds called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) can form, and they're linked to all sorts of cancers, including colon, breast, stomach, pancreatic and prostate cancer. But you make that hamburger healthier by adding about 1/3 cup of chopped tart cherries to every pound of ground beef— slashing HAA production by as much as 90 percent! 

Cutting carcinogens 
Your best bet for reducing HAAs is to use lower-temp cooking methods like stewing, boiling or baking. If you do grill, here are some other ways to healthy-up your hamburgers: 

  • Turn down the temp. Set your grill's temperature between 320 and 356 degrees Fahrenheit (160 to 180 degrees Celsius). Higher temps don't save much cooking time, but they do increase the formation of HAAs. Invest in a meat thermometer to make sure you cook meats to the proper internal temperature, so you can avoid a foodborne illness like salmonella. 
  • Keep flipping. Flip your burgers every minute or so while grilling. They'll cook faster and form fewer HAAs than if you flip 'em just once halfway through cooking. 
  • Microwave first. Microwave meats for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes before grilling, and toss the drippings, which contain the building blocks for HAAs. 
  • Marinate. Marinate meats for at least 10 minutes before cooking to reduce the formation of HAAs. Great marinade choices include olive oil, red wine vinegar, teriyaki sauce or citrus juices loaded with garlic, onion, herbs and spices. 

Medically reviewed in October 2019. Updated in March 2021. 

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