A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Reducing cancer risk: Charcoal, wood, pellet and gas grill tips

We all love the taste of grilled steak, chicken or salmon. However, if you do not use your charcoal, wood, pellet or gas grill correctly, you could be increasing your risk for cancer due to carcinogens caused by charred meat or smoke from grilling.

charcoal, wood, pellet or gas grill could be increasing your cancer risk due to carcinogens caused by charred meat or smoke from grillingThe 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.

HCAs and PAHs are carcinogens

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are carcinogens from grilling that can damage DNA and may increase your risk for cancer.

HCAs are carcinogens that form when muscle meats become charred due to cooking at high temperatures. Yes, it’s those nice grill lines you strive for.

PAHs are carcinogens caused by smoke particles sticking to the meat you are grilling.

“Both HCAs and PAHs are a concern when grilling, but there are things you can do when grilling with any type of grill to reduce your exposure,” said Kristene Schulte, registered dietitian with Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Food grilling safety tips

“Think low and slow,” said Schulte. “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.”

Schulte 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. Even letting your food warm up to room temperature can help.
  • 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, which cause cancer due to charred meat. The bonus here is that your family and guests will rave about the tenderness and added flavor from the marinade.

RELATED ARTICLE: Kick up your grilling with fresh marinade

Safety tips for a charcoal grill

When it comes to a charcoal grill, there are many things you can do to reduce the health concerns when grilling.

For starters, a charcoal grill can be difficult to control the temperature. You should monitor the temperature of your grill at all times to make sure it doesn’t get too hot to cause HCAs on your food.

To reduce the high temperatures that a charcoal grill creates, you can:

  1. Reduce the number of coals you put in the grill.
  2. Put the coals off to the side and then cook your food on the other side.

“It is also recommended to wait for the charcoal to turn white and ashy. It is in this state that coals produce the least amount of smoke,” said Schulte.

Safety tips for smoking

The biggest issue with smoking meats is the fact you are using smoke to cook the meat. Remember, smoke is the primary factor that causes PAHs.

Most smoking experts explain it is important to achieve a specific type of smoke, referred to as “clean blue smoke”, to reduce the formation of PAHs on our foods. Typically, clean blue smoke is produced when the wood is burning in the third stage of combustion.

On the flip side, it is important to reduce white or black smoke when smoking, which can put the most PAHs on your meats.

Schulte also recommends you do no not smoke meat directly over the flame. There are electronic and pellet smokers that can help you achieve the proper smoke with less hassle.

Safety tips for pellet grills

Pellets grills allow you to have more control over your temperature and smoke while still getting that wood-fired taste we all look for in a grilling experience.

If you are using a pellet grill, it is still important to keep the temperatures consistent and low. Most pellet grills also come with a baffle that separates the food from the fire, reducing the flare-ups that can cause HCAs.

Pellet grills also can make great smokers, allowing you to smoke your meats using a clean blue smoke on indirect heat.

Gas grills are generally considered the safest to use

A gas grill is typically considered one of the safer types of grills because you can control the heat much easier and there is less smoke involved.

Learn more from Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Learn more about Nutrition Services Schedule an appointment

Related Shine365 articles

How to be a good Dad: Tips for new and soon-to-be fathers

Hair thinning? Treatment and causes for men and women

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View our comment policy