Sadly, prime-time grilling season is coming to an end. I don’t know about you, but I like to fire up my grill a little more during August, so I can thoroughly enjoy the last weeks of the summer.
But grilling has the potential to be dangerous. At high heat, certain foods create compounds that may be carcinogenic—as in they may promote the c-word. Combined with animal fat, the high temperatures from the grill produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
From an aesthetic standpoint, HCAs are beautiful; they provide the grill marks on your burgers, steaks, and sausage. But, at least in animal studies, they are carcinogenic. It’s also possible to have the potential to alter DNA in humans.
But does this mean you need to stop grilling? Certainly not! There are ways to control and limit these potentially hazardous compounds. Here are a few tips for “safer” grilling.
- Cook More Lean Meats and Fish: Two of the keys to minimizing carcinogenic compounds from grilling are shorter cook times and less fat. Fish, like planked salmon or other cuts of fish, require far shorter cook times than red meat and limit the potential for HCAs to form. Further, using a tool like a cedar plank prevents any kind of grill mark. Seafood, like shrimp, only takes about three to four minutes on the grill and is very low in fat, minimizing the risk for HCAs. Chicken, although taking a bit longer to cook, often has less fat (especially skinless breasts) and typically contains less fat. Plant-based foods are fat-free, and therefore do not form carcinogenic compounds when grilled.
- Marinate or Rub: Marinating your red meats (or any meat) or covering them in seasonings and spices can also reduce HCA formation. Fats, sugar, herbs, and spices act as a shield, so the meat itself does not sear and produce potentially dangerous compounds. If you choose to marinate, allow your meat to sit in it for at least 30-minutes before cooking.
- Substitute Fruit and Veggies for Meat: Plant-foods do not produce HCAs when grilled, so substituting fruits and veggies for meat can reduce the risk of potential carcinogen intake. Using onion, pineapple, or peach on skewers instead of meat is an easy swap.
- Be A Little More Active: If you can’t get by without those steaks, burgers, and grill marks, you may be able to limit carcinogenic compounds by flipping a little more frequently. This helps ensure the heated surface doesn’t get too hot and minimizes the potential of possibly hazardous compounds.