7 Tips for Safe Grilling

For most Americans, Memorial Day is the time when the old Bar-B-Que comes out of wraps, and grilling season begins in earnest.

But research over the last decade has shown that cooking food on a grill has some serious potential dangers. Luckily these dangers can be minimized if you know what you’re doing.

Here’s the problem. There are two carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds that can be created by barbecuing at high heat.  Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when meat is either over-cooked or charbroiled. HCAs have been shown to contribute to cancer in animals– The Department of Health and Human Services includes HCAs on its list of chemicals “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.

The second type of carcinogens associated with grilling are called PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). These are formed when fat drips from the meat onto the hot surface of the grills and forms a smoke which is carried back up onto the food. PAHs can also form on the food directly whenever it’s charred or blackened.

So do you have to give up grilling? Not at all. You can easily minimize the dangers of barbecuing by following these 7 easy steps:

  1. Don’t’ use too high a flame. Keep the heat lower and flip the meat frequently (like every minute) to prevent overdoing it on one side
  2. Forgo “blackened” (like blackened catfish) or very  well-done meats
  3. Trim the fat (reducing the fat drippings and the resultant smoke)
  4. Choose thinner cuts of meat- they don’t require as much cooking time
  5. Shorten grill time and get the meat off the grill as soon as possible
  6. Consider “pre-cooking”- either in a sauté pan or a microwave. This will also cut down on the time the meat spends on the hot grill.
  7. Marinade. Research published in the Journal of Food Science found that marinating meats (or pork or chicken) can reduce the HCAs by as much as 70%. Marinades with lots of spices (which contain antioxidants) are particularly good.

It’s also a good idea to include lots of vegetables on the grill- they’re not subject to HCA or PAH formation, and they provide lots of antioxidants to help protect your cells and DNA from damage.

And always keep the grease and oil off your grill!