Is Grilled Food Carcinogenic?

Jul 2, 2021

It’s summer – the lilacs are in bloom and in every neighborhood you walk through, there’s a smell in the air of grilling! And with many spending more time in the backyard this summer, we wondered, is BBQing actually good for us, or is it possibly carcinogenic? Carcinogenic means that it has the potential to cause cancer. There are plenty of carcinogens in our world – from lifestyle choices (smoking, excessive alcohol use) to pollution and chemicals in some cleaning supplies. When it comes to the BBQ, unfortunately we can’t leave carcinogens out. Luckily this doesn’t mean you have to put your barbeque on the back burner forever.

It’s what you grill that counts

When you light up the grill – choose veggies over meat. Carcinogens are produced when you grill fatty meat at a high temperature. When this is done, the high temperature manipulates the molecules in the meat and creates toxic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCA). Not only is HCA produced but another chemical reaction forms when the fat drips into the flames and creates a smoke. The smoke creates a toxin called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that leaches into the meat as the smoke surrounds it on the ‘Q.

Luckily, HCAs are not in plant-based foods – so when you grill up veggies and fruits, there’s no concerns that you’re consuming any toxins.

There’s no denying that a fire-grilled burger sure beats out one cooked on the stove top. So here are some ways to reduce the HCAs and toxins that you consume. 

Medium rare vs well-done

Any chef will say that no meat should be well-done to begin with. But there’s also some health factors to that as well. Medium-rare meats have almost 4 times LESS the amount of HCA than well-done meat.

Cook your meats at a lower temperature

To avoid a well-done disaster and reduce your risks of consuming toxins, we suggest pre-cooking your meats before throwing them on the grill. You also want to lightly grill your meats, not char them. A great suggestion is to start on a medium-high heat and flip the meat often to avoid charring, and prevent toxins like HCA and PAH. You can also grill each side quickly (over medium-high) and then turn the burners off and close the barbeque lid. This creates more of an oven atmosphere to cook the meat without risk of charring.

Smaller cooks faster, thus spending less time on the grill, so kebabs are a great way to enjoy grilled meat and reduce the exposure to toxins.

When it comes to the char, you want to avoid that on ALL your grilled foods – which includes fruits and veggies. You can use the same method of flipping often and turning the burners off.

Clean the grill

Of course, with any sort of cooking environment, you need a clean station to work with. You definitely want to scrub down the grill before firing it up. Any leftover bits from the previous BBQ session could contribute to charring. So when it comes time to fire up the grill, choose veggies first. We’ve got some great grilled veggie recipes to try. And if you or your family are meat-aholics, then consider reducing the amount of times you use the grill to cook your meats and use the low and slow method to cook them.


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