Saturday, May 21, 2011

Grill Safely

There is a small cancer risk associated with grilling meat since carcinogens are created during the grilling process, however vegetables (even when they char) do not produce carcinogens. Taking a few precautions while barbecuing minimizes the health risks without sacrificing that delicious charcoal taste. 

Grilling protein-filled foods such as meats and fish creates two kinds of chemical compounds that may contribute to cancer: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs form when meat is cooked at a high temperature. While frying and broiling produce these chemicals as well, the charred bits at the edges of barbecued meat contain HCAs in their purest state. PAHs form when juices from meat drip onto coals or other hot surfaces and create smoke. The smoke contains these carcinogens, which are deposited onto the surface of meat as it swirls around the food on the grill. 

To cut down on the amount of carcinogens produced, you can microwave meat 60-90 seconds to reduce the amount of time needed to grill it. You can also cut off the charred parts of the meat which means you won't ingest the purest HCA's contained there. Certain recipes can also make grilling safer; vinegar or lemon marinades act as a shield to prevent PAH's from sticking to the meat. Instead of grilling meat, try grilling some vegetables like squash and asparagus, or fruits like pineapple.

Though grilling is not the greatest cancer risk, we should still take precautions to reduce known risk.  I hope everyone has a great summer grilling season! (I sure have some new recipes ready to go.)


  1. Is there a difference if you are using a charcoal grill vs. a gas grill?

  2. Gas is definitely better than charcoal - you get much less of the smoke effect (PAH's produced), but cooking meat at high temps will still produce HCA's