It used to be that we thought grilling was the cleanest and leanest way to cook meats as the fat drips away as the meat cooks. An added benefit in grilling is there is no need for added batter, heavy/sweet sauces or excess oils. It tastes great on its own. However, over the last decade and a half more and more research indicates cancer risks associated with grilling. This is a problem specifically with meats that are cooked over high heat.
Let’s take a closer look at what causes this risk.
It turns out the muscle protein from meats, chicken and fish cooked over high heat allows the formation of heterocyclic amines (otherwise known as HCA’s). These HCA’s are mutagenic which means they have been shown to show DNA changes in cell structure which may lead to increased risk for cancer.
Also, as the fat melts from the meat and fall on the coals or the burner, smoke is formed which contains carcinogenic substances known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). This is the smoke that makes barbecue taste so great.
The bad news is that there is increasing evidence to link the consumption of grilled red meat to an increased risk for colon, prostate, pancreatic, stomach, and breast cancers – and this increased risk is especially prevalent if the meat is well done.
But here is the good news. You can reduce your risk with some simple changes and keep the flavor and still enjoy summer grilling. Here are some tips to lighten up the grilling process.
1. Turn down the heat— Current research tells us that well done or charred meat poses the highest risk. Just lower the temperature even if it means cooking longer. The goal is to avoid charring the meat. You can also flip the meat more frequently. In fact, Cook’s Illustrated magazine recommends this for the best flavor.
2. Marinate your meat — Studies have shown that marinades have a profound, minimizing effect on the production of HCAs and PAHs. It’s easy to make a marinade. Simply choose a good olive oil, an acid like lemon juice or lime juice, some garlic and an herb like dill, rosemary, parsley or cilantro and additional seasoning like salt, pepper and other spices. Check out the recipes in my book Cool the Fire (here’s a link) for Grilled Chicken with Garlic Pesto, Marinated Shrimp Kabobs and Grilled Salmon with Mango Salsa.
3. Choose leaner cuts such as chicken, turkey and fish. Just make sure to remove the skin on the poultry. If you use a marinade the meat will stay moist.
4. Grill more fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables don’t have the PAH and HCA problem. Grilled veggies are easy to prepare and cook. Just marinate them in your favorite home-made dressing or marinade for 15 to 30 min and throw them on the grill.
5. Go for kebabs—Kebabs are easy to make and always delicious. Just use a good marinade and cook the meat and the veggies separately so the veggies don’t overcook while the meat undercooks. And make sure to keep the marinades separate so raw meat organisms don’t get all over the veggies.