Keep Carcinogens Out of Your Grilled Food

Studies show that eating charred meat can increase risks for cancer.

| June 2008 Web

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.

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