From barbecue chicken to grilled corn, we all love the taste of food cooked on an outdoor grill.COLUMN: Which Cooking Oil is Healthiest?But there are risks. The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) points out that grilling might increase the risk of various cancers. Cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced when animal protein is cooked at the high temperatures used in grilling and broiling. Other cancer-causing compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when meat fat drips onto hot coals. As the food cooks on the grill, flames and smoke help deposit the PAHs back onto the food.There is also evidence that smoking and charring foods can damage DNA and may be carcinogenic. What’s more, there’s some concern regarding sodium nitrite, a simple salt (NaNO2) used in hot dogs—a grilling staple—along with bacon, ham, cold cuts and cured foods. These foods can form nitrosamines, which are known to be powerful carcinogens in animals.MORE: Is Ground Beef the Most Dangerous Meat to Eat?How Marinades HelpSome studies have suggested that marinating meat prior to grilling can actually reduce the formation of HCAs. Research also shows a significant decrease in HCAs when foods are marinated with herbs such as rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano, sage, marjoram and mint. In addition to keeping your foods safe from cancer-causing compounds, marinades boost flavor while keeping foods moist during grilling.Just be sure not to reuse your marinades. The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA warns against this practice unless you boil the marinade first to destroy bacteria. Using fresh marinade for basting is easier and eliminates the risk of bacterial contamination altogether.Another tip: If foods to be barbecued are thin and in small portions, they will not need to remain on the grill for longer lengths of time. Choose meat and poultry that are lean and well trimmed of fat so as not to induce flames that cause burning and charring. This can result in mutagens being formed, which have a suspected link to cancer.MORE: Eight Herbs That Improve Your HealthSafe Grilling TipsBefore you turn on that grill, follow these smart barbecuing rules:
- Marinate before grilling and with herbs, if possible.
- Drain off excess marinade so as not induce flames.
- Place food on cold racks at beginning of cooking to prevent char marks on the food.
- Avoid charcoal briquettes that contain chemicals, and ignite the grill with an electric starter or chimney starter with newspaper—not lighter fluid.
- Moderate heat by having a cooler area on the grill.
- Use a cooker or barbecue grill where you can raise or lower the rack.
- Use a cooker with a cover and base vent to control the flame or eliminate it.
- Turn foods frequently, such as with tongs, to prevent charring.