A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Think “low and slow” when grilling

boy watching his dad baste food on the grill with marinadeIt’s time for the summer grilling season, a time to enjoy good food and fun.

As you fire up your gas or charcoal grill, take a moment to consider what and how you’re cooking. That tempting meat with such a pleasant aroma may be a health concern.

The American Institute for Cancer Research says that when meat, poultry and fish are cooked with high temperatures – especially when well-done or charred – two cancer-causing compounds can form.

These substances, called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), can damage DNA and may increase your risk for colon cancer.

Food grilling safety tips

“Think low and slow,” said Chrisanne Urban, M.S., a Marshfield Clinic registered dietitian. “Slow down the cooking time with a low flame or less charcoal, to limit burning and charring. Cut off any visible fat and any charred portions of the meat.”

Urban offers these additional tips on how to enjoy safer grilling:

  • Partially pre-cook. You can do this in the microwave, oven or on the stove to help reduce time the meat is exposed to high heat.
  • Sizzle with veggies and fruits. You can boost cancer prevention with these foods on the menu and you can grill away without worry because the cancer-causing compounds related to grilled meat don’t form on grilled vegetables and fruits.
  • Mix up a marinade. Marinating meat, even for as little as 30 minutes, reduces formation of HCAs. The bonus here is that your family and guests will rave about the tenderness and added flavor from the marinade.

kebabs with onions, peppers and chicken marinaded and ready to grill

Classic Marinade Recipe

This classic marinade is suitable for vegetables, lean meat, poultry and fish.  Start to finish: 40 minutes.


  • 1/2 cup rice or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, thyme or oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


In a bowl, combine marinade ingredients until well blended.

Pour or baste over food to be grilled and turn several times until all sides are coated.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, occasionally turning food so marinade is evenly distributed.

Discard any remaining leftover liquid.

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