Grilling is a quick, convenient, and delicious way to prepare many foods. However, grilling also presents a health risk. Two separate types of carcinogenic compounds are produced by high-temperature grilling:
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs)
HCAs form when a meat is directly exposed to a flame or very high-temperature surface. The creatine-rich meat juices react with the heat to form various HCAs, which have been shown to cause DNA mutation, and may be a factor in the development of certain cancers.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
PAHs form in smoke that’s produced when fat from the meat ignites or drips on the hot coals of the grill. Various PAHs present in the resulting smoke adhere to the outside surface of the grilled meat. PAH exposure is also believed to be linked to certain cancers.
Here are some tips for dramatically reducing HCA and PAH content in grilled meats:
- Select leaner meats.
Leaner cuts of meat are less likely to drip fat on the grill and produce PAH-laden smoke.
- Marinate meats before grilling.
Researchers have determined that marinating meat prior to grilling, even for just a few minutes, can reduce HCA formation by 90% or more.
- Grill at lower temperatures.
Lower temperature “roasting” also greatly reduces HCA formation.
- Prevent flare-ups.
Flames from grill flare-ups cause the formation of both HCAs and PAHs. Keep an eye on your grill and turn meats frequently to minimize the chance of flare-ups.
- Don’t overcook meats.
While it’s important to cook poultry and ground meats thoroughly, be careful not to overcook any meat. Well-done or burnt meats contain higher levels of HCAs than less cooked meats.
Or, opt for a vegetarian cookout. HCAs and PAHs are not formed when grilling vegetables and the options are virtually unlimited: Try veggie kabobs, portobella mushrooms, or black bean burgers.