However, the problem isn’t exactly the grill, it’s the fact that meat (or fish or eggs, for that matter) is being cooked at a high temperature for a long time. That could happen in the broiler or in a very hot frying pan just as easily as the grill.
The problem stems from compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which form when animal protein is cooked at these high temperatures. Over the years, scientists have gathered evidence from animal studies linking HCAs with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including the stomach, colon and liver.
For now, not enough evidence has accumulated to label HCAs as “known human carcinogens.” But in January 2005, HCAs were listed as “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens” in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Eleventh Edition of its Report on Carcinogens. This report includes 188 “reasonably anticipated” listings, as well as 58 substances that are “known to be human carcinogens.”
Other compounds, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are found in the charred parts of meat. Like HCAs, they are listed as “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens,” and have been for more than 20 years. Both compounds are also found in cigarette smoke and polluted air.
Don’t give up on grilling — it’s a low-fat option for meat preparation. To reduce your risk, you can:
- Marinate meat before grilling. The added moisture appears to reduce the number of potentially risky compounds.
- Microwave meat for 1.5 to two minutes before putting it on the grill. That appears to significantly reduce the formation of these substances.
- Clean the grill before using it, scraping away old charred food bits.
- Turn meat several times during cooking to minimize charring.
- Use an indirect grilling method instead of placing meat directly over coals. Consider using aluminum foil under meat.
- Cut away charred portions of the meat before eating.
- Include fruits and vegetables on the menu. Even when grilled, they don’t form the same compounds as meat.
ChowLine is a service of Ohio State University.