Art of cancer-safe barbecuing


SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Churning out picture-perfect grill marks on your steaks is not only a sign of being an expert grillmaster but a sign of something else.

With grilling season in full swing, health expert, Karen Owoc, enlightens us on the art of cancer-safe barbecuing.

Karen says when you cook muscle at high temperatures (whether it’s beef, pork, poultry, or fish), two potentially cancer-causing chemicals are formed according to lab studies.

These chemicals are called:

  1. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) The proteins react to the intense heat and lab studies have shown HCAs alter DNA which could lead to cancer.
  2. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — PAHs are formed when fat and juices drip off the meat and into the grill which burn and cause flames and smoke. PAHs come back up in the smoke, and these potentially carcinogenic compounds cover and stick to the meat.

Tips to Cancer-Safe Grilling

No need to stop firing up the grill especially since it’s a fast and easy way to get a meal on the table. But here are tips on making your next barbecue healthier.

  1. Go Lean: Since PAHs are produced when fat hits an open flame, choose leaner meats and trim the fat. Don’t press meat down onto the grill grates or pierce your meats. The fat and juices will drip onto the flame and cause more PAHs to form.
  2. Go Green: Fruits and vegetables don’t produce HCAs. Produce doesn’t have muscle or fat — both of which are the problems when exposed to high temperatures.
  3. Wrap It: Don’t cook your fruits/veggies with your meat. The fat dripping from the meat will fall into the flames and coat your produce with PAHs. If you do cook them together, wrap the produce in foil to protect them from the smoke..
  4. Marinate It: Research suggests marinating meat for at least 30 minutes. Try a rub made with olive oil, pepper, spices, chili peppers, and herbs which seem to help inhibit the formation of cancer-causing compounds due to their high antioxidant properties.
  5. Pre-Cook It: Partially cook your meat in the oven, microwave, or on the stove first to reduce the time your meat is exposed to flames.
  6. Cut It: Skewer small cuts of meat (such as with kabobs) which will cook faster and reduce the amount of time exposed to the heat and reduce HCA formation.
  7. Flip It Frequently:  According to the National Cancer Institute, continuously turning your meat to cook the meat can substantially reduce HCA formation vs just leaving it on the grill without flipping it very often.
  8. Go for Gas: The heat on a gas grill is more controllable, so opt for gas versus a charcoal grill. Charcoal burns hotter than gas, and you can’t dial down the heat. Light up the outside burners only. Don’t light the center one, but cook your meat in the center of the grill with the lid closed.
  9. Clean the Grill: Clean the grill grates before grilling to remove any old char, and keep it clean throughout the grilling as well.

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