This time of year there’s nothing like a backyard cookout with all the traditional fare, including hot dogs, hamburgers, and corn on the cob. As much as we all love grilling, research has shown that cancer-causing compounds can form when meats, poultry, and fish are cooked at high heat. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat—including beef, pork, fish, or poultry—is cooked using high-temperature methods such as grilling directly over an open flame. HCAs and PAHs have been found to cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer. Also, anytime we grill there’s a risk of fire.
There are a few general guidelines to keep you and your family safe while grilling. To prevent fire make sure your grill is outside and away from any eaves, deck railings, and overhanging branches. Take the time to occasionally clean your grill and remove grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill. Never leave your grill on and unattended.
To keep your meat safe on the grill follow these important suggestions:
Use a grill thermometer.
Keep the food on the grill until it’s thoroughly cooked, but not any longer. Use a grill thermometer to help determine when the food is done. Steaks, chops, and fish should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Beef burgers and pork should be cooked to 160 and chicken and turkey to 165 degrees.
Use low temperatures and indirect heat when you grill. Indirect heat is created by turning on the back burners and turning the front burner—where the meat is cooking—down or off. This will allow the meat to cook without direct flames.
Flip your food.
While cooking the food make an effort to flip your food frequently to prevent it from burning.
Try to avoid smoke and flame flare-ups from grease. Keep a water bottle handy in the event of a fire. The smoke and flames contain cancer-causing substances that coat the meat.
Marinate your food.
Marinating your meats before grilling can reduce your risk of cancer. Studies have shown that marinating your meat before grilling it can decrease HCA formation by up to 96 percent.
Switch to grilling veggies and fruits.
Try grilling other foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Grilling vegetables and fruits rather than meat produces no HCAs and ends up decreasing your risk of cancer.
Try lean meat.
If you simply can’t ditch the meat, try to buy lean meat or remove the fat before grilling. When there’s little to no fat there’s less likelihood that the meat will catch on fire. Using indirect heat is another way to prevent direct flames on the meat.
Grill smaller pieces of meat.
Try grilling kebabs rather than large pieces of meat. Using smaller pieces of meat will allow the meat to cook faster. Less time on the grill means less time to form cancer-causing compounds.
Remember to limit the amount of red meat you’re consuming. The evidence is overwhelming that diets high in red meat (including processed meats such as hot dogs) can contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
When thinking about grill safety it’s important to keep the grill in a safe location to reduce the chance of fire, and it’s equally important to give thought to what type of food you’re grilling and the way it’s prepared on the grill.