Grilling can be one of the most satisfying and delicious ways to cook. You’re outside; cooking over an open flame, sipping a refreshing beverage… it’s hard not to love a good old-fashioned barbeque! Yet, recent research indicates that grilling meat, such as red meat, poultry and fish, may pose certain health risks. So, while that gorgeous T-bone is sizzling on the grill, a variety of hazardous chemicals are forming.
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), cooking over an open flame produces carcinogens called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. Carcinogens are substances that might cause, increase the risks of, or promote cancer. While the risks are still being studied, there is concern that high levels of HCAs may increase the risk of breast, colon, stomach and prostate cancers.
In addition to HCAs, another class of cancer-promoting substances, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are formed when fat from meat drips onto hot coals or stones, causing flare-ups. PAHs are deposited back onto food by smoke and flare-ups.
But fear not! There are some simple things you can do to minimize the formation of these substances – without sacrificing the wonderful flavor (and the joy) that comes from cooking on the grill.
When preparing to grill, remember to:
- Clean the grill – remove any leftover charred bits from your last cookout
- Choose lean meats, and go easy on processed meats
- Try to limit your consumption of red meat to 18 ounces or less (cooked) per week
- Trim fat (and remove skin from poultry) to reduce drips and flare-ups
- Opt for smaller cuts like kabobs, which spend less time on the grill
- Use spices -- Kansas State University scientists have discovered that three spices in particular — finger root (also known as Chinese ginger), rosemary and turmeric — seem to direct the greatest amount of antioxidant activity toward preventing the formation of HCAs
- Use marinades (flavor with spices, herbs, fresh juices, wine, beer) whenever possible – the KSU study found that they significantly decrease the formation of HCAs
When you’re cooking:
- Pre-cook meats in the microwave, or oven, so they spend less time on the grill
- Put a piece of foil with a few small holes in it (so fat can drain) on the grilling surface
- Flip meats frequently, this accelerates cooking and helps prevent HCAs from forming
- Grill vegetables (and even fruits) – they don’t produce HCAs
- Use tongs or a spatula to turn food. Piercing the meat with a fork allows juices and fat to drip down onto the coals and cause flare-ups.
- Keep a spray bottle filled with water handy, to keep coals and flames under control
When you’re ready to eat:
- Scrape off any charred parts
- Practice smart portioning; eat a serving that’s a bit smaller than your usual
Looking for a great recipe that uses a marinade? Try one of ours:
For more info on grilling and carcinogens, check out the AICR website at http://www.aicr.org.