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Does Charcoal Grilling Cause Cancer?

BBQ on-the-go

Grilling and eating BBQ in my household was a part of life. It was a rights-of-passage for the young men in the family to show that they are growing up. Men across the country love to grill. There are shows, restaurants, competitions and big money competitions all dedicated to the art of grilling.

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A growing body of research suggests that cooking meats over a flame is linked to cancer. Combusting wood, gas, or charcoal emits chemicals known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. Exposure to these so-called PAHs is known to cause skin, liver, stomach, and several other types of cancer in lab animals, but how does it affect humans?

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form in protein-rich foods when cooked at a very high heat — like that of your backyard barbecue, says Doyle. PAHs form when fat drips and burns on the grill, creating smoke. As the smoke circulates around your meat, those compounds can get deposited on whatever you’re grilling and you consume it.

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Long story short, according to 2013 research findings, there’s not enough evidence in humans to just give up grilling all together. Shoot, before all these fancy cooking, many people were eating from humankind did since the beginning of time: eat meat over fire. But now, since food is packaged and prepared differently, and even charcoal is made differently, we have to be more careful with how we grill. Here’s three things we can do:

1. Use Foil

A little foil over the grill can help. Covering the grates with perforated foil still allows juices to drip, but prevents some of the resulting smoke from rising up, according to Reader’s Digest. Similarly, skip piercing your meat to see if it’s done, says Doyle, since doing so causes more fat to drip and drain and more smoke to billow.


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If you still want to grill on charcoal, wait for charcoal to become low-burning embers. Don’t try to grill while the fire is super hot and the coals are black. the steady low-burning charcoal emits less HCA’s but with the nearly the same level of heat.

There’s also mounting evidence that the way you prepare your meat can make a difference. Marinating meat even just for 30 minutes seems to limit carcinogen formation. A number of spices, in addition to adding fun flavor, seem to offer particular protection, including red pepper, thyme, sage, garlic and especially rosemary, reported.

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2. Have Healthier Side Dishes

What you select for a side dish can help, too. Instead of having the usual chips, baked beans or spaghetti, choose fruits and veggies which are rich in naturally-occurring, cancer-fighting phytochemicals. They also may help…

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Updated: July 6, 2020 — 1:57 am

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