Nothing says “summertime” more than a backyard barbecue. It can be a fun, healthy way to cook and enjoy your food. Unfortunately, though, if you like your BBQ with a little charring or your meats really well-done, you may be doing yourself more harm than good.
The problem with grilling is that charring or over-grilling your food can create carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs form when components of meat, like amino acids, react with high temperatures. In addition, when fat from the meat drips down into the heat, the resulting flames contain PAHs, which then stick to the meat.
The good news is that something as simple as marinating your meat for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling can help reduce the formation of these cancer-causing compounds. Research shows that marinades that contain various herbs and spices--like rosemary, garlic, thyme, basil, etc.--can reduce HCAs, partly due to their high antioxidant content.
Here are a few other ways to reduce the risk of HCAs and PAHs:
- Use lean cuts of meat, or trim fat before grilling.
- To avoid long grilling times, cut the meat into thin pieces or microwave the meat for a few minutes prior to grilling.
- To keep meat from charring, keep flipping it until it's cooked through.