BBQ Magic

There seems to be something magical watching the drippings from steak and other protein type foods flare up over the whole grill. Watching the flames flare up over the beef and other goods on the grill seems to make it all taste better. But this type of charbroiling really isn’t healthy for us. Granted it does smell and enhances flavor. But not many people really know the hazards of cooking this way.

The problem with traditional grilling comes from the combination of meat with intense heat. Whether you are using red meat, poultry or seafood, substances in the muscle proteins of these foods react under the high heat to form carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs can damage the DNA in our genes, beginning the process of cancer development. It is best to grill or boil on an area without a direct flame as the temperatures directly above or below the flame can reach as high as 500 to 1,000 degrees fahrenheit. Under 325 degrees, the formation of these compounds are very low. When a food like a hamburger is grilled for 10 minutes versus 6 minutes, the HCAs levels in the hamburger may increase by 25-30%.

Meat, fish and poultry are more likely to create the formations of HCA while grilling. HCAs require the presence of amino acids (from protein) as well as the nitrogen-containing substances creatine or creatinine.

Adding cancer fighting foods like onions, garlic and cruciferous vegetables may help the body detoxify some of the HCAs.

One study found that people who eat the most barbecued red meat (beef, pork and lamb) almost doubled their risk of colon polyps, compared to those who did not eat these foods. Colon polyps can lead to colon cancer. Some evidence also suggest that these carcinogenic compounds can travel through the bloodstream to other tissues. This would why HCAs could be a factor in breast cancer, lung and other cancers.

Research has shown that grilling meats at high heat can cause the carcinogens heterocyclic amine (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to form. One study found that people who consume well-done meat grilled, barbecued, pan fried, or broiled on a regular basis where 60% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

The University of Virginia recommends grilling vegetables and small cuts of meat that cook more quickly, reducing the amount of HCAs created in the food. Marinating meats prior to grilling can help to lessen any potential effects. Marinating can decrease HCA formation by up to 96 percent. Although studies are still underway to determine which ingredients help the most. Trimming the excess fat from the meat to avoid flare-ups while cooking also helps.

Pre-cooking your meat before placing it on the grill also helps to reduce heterocyclic and amine production to form. You could use a microwave to partially cook your steak, chicken, or fish. Then finish it on the grill. Cooking at lower temperatures is a big benefit. By raising the grilling surface from the heat source, you can also reduce black char that can form on meat. This char has a high carcinogenic content.

Flipping the mean every minute reduces the formation of HCAs. Use an instant read thermometer to be sure meat is thoroughly cooked, the further you cook meat past that point, the more HCAs will form. A higher consumption of well-done meat is linked with two to five times more colon cancer and two to three more breast cancer.