Mother Earth Living

Keep Carcinogens Out of Your Grilled Food

Studies show that eating charred meat can increase risks for cancer.
By Matthew Foster
June 2008 Web
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Any barbecue chefs worth their weight in sirloin know how important it is to check the internal temperature of meat. Good outdoor culinarians (ones who truly deserve to wear a Kiss the Cook apron) use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat reaches a safe temperature without cooking it to the point of blackened crispiness. But besides merely avoiding a distasteful burnt taste, scientific evidence suggests that charring meat increases health risks.

Some health concerns revolve around ensuring that meat reaches the correct temperature, but recent studies indicate there might be more dire concerns on the flip side. These other health concerns stem from the production of carcinogens whenever meat is cooked, but especially when it is browned such as in a frying pan or on the grill. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) have been attributed with the formation and worsening of prostate cancer and has been implicated in a study that shows a two-fold risk increase of breast cancer. Barbecuing also produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This carcinogen is suspected of having abnormal estrogenic activity, which affects hormones in the body. Long story short: the longer meat is cooked, the more of these dangerous carcinogens creep into your cheeseburger.

If you’re not interested in exploring vegetarianism or in becoming a cookout-avoiding recluse, follow these helpful tips to minimize your exposure to meat-born carcinogens:

Trim excess fat. Fat dripping into the heat causes PAHs, so trim the fat, use a drip pan to collect falling juices and avoid stabbing the meat with a fork or knife. Also consider wrapping meats in parchment paper surrounded by foil.

Marinate meat in teriyaki or tumeric-garlic sauce. Beef steaks marinated in teriyaki have around 50 percent lower levels of HCAs than un-marinated meat. On the flip side though, marinating with barbeque sauce actually causes an increase in HCAs.

Cook at lower temperatures. Most carcinogens are created at temperatures higher than 300 degrees, so turn the heat down or let charcoal become low burning embers and then keep the grill raised a little higher away from the heat source.

Use smaller cuts of meat. These cook faster which cuts down on the production of carcinogens.

Maintain a clean grill. The build up below and on the grilling surface continues to cook and cause carcinogens if not removed. In order to clean a grill, turn up the heat to its highest and close the lid. Once it’s cooled, wipe with an all-natural cleaning solution such as Nature Clean’s oven cleaner. If your grill is in need of replacing, do not replace it with an aluminum coated one. The aluminum has a tendency to chip and contaminate food. Get a cast iron, stainless steel or porcelain coated grill. The latter two are probably the easiest to clean.

More about green grilling and cooking

• Learn how you can green your summer barbecue parties.

• Explore ways to make your cooking habits more eco-friendly.

• Improve your cooking—and your health—with essential oils. Check out the recipes!

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