Q&A: Healthy Grilling

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Filed Under: Q&As, General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

I read somewhere that grilling meats on the barbeque can be dangerous. Any truth to that?

 

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Grilling meat at high temperatures produces carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

When fats drip onto hot coals or heating elements, additional cancer-causing compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are also formed. The good news is that there are a number of simple steps you can take to avoid HCAs and PAHs.

Start by using the leanest cuts of meat and poultry. Reduce grilling time by cutting meat into small chunks or precooking it in a microwave for two to five minutes—which can decrease HCAs by 90 percent.

Marinating your meat or poultry also provides a great deal of protection. Even a few minutes of marinating sets up a barrier against heat that dramatically reduces the formation of HCAs. (The ideal “soak time” is 10–30 minutes.)

Make sure your marinade recipe includes an acidic component (lemon juice, orange juice, vinegar), combined with your favorite herbs and flavorings (onions, garlic, soy sauce).

Another way to protect your meat? Rosemary. Researchers have found that antioxidants in this herb cut down on HCA production during cooking. Other herbs and spices such as garlic, thyme, oregano, and turmeric also appear to help.

Although traditional marinades include oil, it’s not necessary; omitting it will reduce smoking on the grill and minimize the formation of PAHs.

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