Summer is so close, you can almost smell it — along with hamburgers, chicken, and other backyard barbecue classics. A growing body of research, however, finds that grilling season can be hard on your health if you eat charred meat or inhale too much smoke.
When meat is cooked on a charcoal grill at high temperatures, it releases two highly carcinogenic substances: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). “Charbroiled burgers emit more particulate matters — about twice the level — as a heavy-duty diesel truck,” says Richard Mayfield, DC, CCN, director of the Center for Well Being in Edina, Minn.
But you don’t have to hang up your grilling tongs just yet. There are easy ways to make your backyard barbecue safer:
- Ditch the charcoal and wood chips. Use a gas grill to avoid charring and reduce smoke and PAHs.
- Clean your grill to scrub away the buildup of char. Make sure your grill brush is in good condition — otherwise, old metal bristles could fall off and end up in your food. Or try this natural method: Cut an onion in half and rub the cut side on the hot grate to remove grime.
- Marinate your meat. A report from Kansas State University showed that marinating all types of meat can cut carcinogens up to 88 percent by penetrating the muscle tissue with antioxidants.
- Precook the meat for a few minutes. This will allow you to reduce cooking time and heat intensity on the grill, which will lower HCA content.
- Choose lean pieces of meat to avoid flare-ups. The smoke produced by fat dripping onto an open flame can contain carcinogens.
- Try grilling smaller pieces of meat, which cook faster and at lower temperatures.
- Flip the meat frequently to prevent charring on either side.
“And if you’re going to eat anything grilled, have some cruciferous vegetables — like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, or kale,” says Mayfield. They contain glucosinolates, which can help counteract the HCAs and PAHs and have a detoxifying effect.