Your Guide to Healthier Grilling

May 24, 2013
safety tips for grill

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of grilling season, but backyard chefs beware: charring your meat may be harmful to your health.

Studies suggest that grilling meats at high temperatures for long periods of time creates heterocylic amines (HCAs), a chemical reaction that may increase your risk of cancer, says Keri Glassman, RD, author of The New You (and Improved) Diet. What’s more, when fat drippings from meat create smoke on the grill, the smoke transfers another carcinogen—polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH—to the meat, she explains. 


This doesn’t mean you should keep your grill stored in the garage. Barbecuing can be a healthy way to prepare delicious food—you simply need to limit your exposure to these harmful chemicals as much as possible. Follow the simple tips below to become a more carcinogen-conscious and healthy grill master.

Don’t Burn the Meat
Cook meat until it is brown, not black. “Carcinogenic toxins are more commonly found in the burnt areas of meat,” says Glassman. You can also pre-cook meat and finish it on the grill to get the charred flavor while minimizing your exposure to HCAs.

Cut It Up
Slice meat into small pieces so it cooks faster. The less time the meat spends on the grill, the better—it reduces the likelihood of carcinogen formation.

Use Marinades
Marinating meat before cooking helps lessen HCA formation. Researchers suspect that the antioxidants in marinades, specifically the spices and herbs, are responsible for protecting against carcinogens, explains Jennifer McDaniel, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano seem to be the best defenders, she says.

Flip Often
Flip meats every minute or so to reduce HCAs by almost 70 percent, says McDaniel.

Trim the Burn
HCAs are only found in the burned or charred parts of meats, so remove those sections before serving.

Avoid Direct Heat
Line your grilltop with aluminum foil to prevent your meat’s juices from dropping into the fire or flames touching the meat, suggests McDaniel. This helps prevent charring, and also makes for easy cleanup, she says.

Go For Lean Meats
Leaner meats have less fat to drip into the grill, so they’re less likely to cause flare-ups and the formation of PAHs, says Glassman.

Grill Veggies 
Carcinogens are associated with grilling foods, such as chicken and steak. Vegetables on the other hand do not create these harmful chemicals when burned. Grill some veggies, such as corn, asparagus, and carrots. (Related: 10 Unexpected Foods That Taste Great Grilled

Use Gas
You can reduce exposure to HCAs by using a gas grill versus a charcoal grill.

More from Fitbie:

Dietitians’ Favorite Foods to Grill

10 Unexpected Foods That Taste Great Grilled

10 Summer Weight Loss Secrets From the Grill