Nobody wants their kabobs with a side of carcinogens. But if you’re not careful, that’s exactly what you’ll serve up this barbecue season.
Grilling is a delicious way to cook summer meals. But all that smoky, flame-licked flavor has a dark side—literally. In the form of compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), two scary byproducts of high-temp chargrilling.
HCAs form when meat reacts to high temperatures. PAHs form when fat and juices drip into the fire and start to smoke. Both are bad news, with lab experiments linking swallowing too many of them to a long list of cancers.
The clothing connection to cancer
But according to recent research, one of the two might prove harder to avoid than anyone bargained for…
The study split volunteers into different groups. Each had different levels of exposure to the grill’s food and smoke. When the researchers analyzed urine samples from each of the folks, they found, as expected, eating food fixed on the grill delivered the highest levels of PAH exposure.
But the rest of the findings surprised everyone. It turns out, the next most common source of PAH exposure wasn’t inhaling smoke from the grill as everyone expected. It was exposure through their skin.
That’s right—PAHs literally get under your skin. And to make matters worse, extra clothing doesn’t provide an effective barrier from these cancer-causing chemicals. At least, not in the long term. Because once those clothes are full of grill smoke, they will transfer PAHs just as easily.
5 grilling hacks for a healthier BBQ
The solution? According to the researchers, your best bet is to change and wash your clothes as soon as you’re done grilling. And for party guests, that means staying as far away from a smoking grill as you can since most of us won’t be carting a change of clothes along with us.
But avoiding grill smoke isn’t the only way you can reduce your, and your guest’s, exposure to carcinogens. Following are four more grilling hacks to make your next BBQ safer.
1. Keep it clean:
Not just your clothes, but your grill, too. The char on those grill grates is loaded with carcinogens. Which means a dirty grill is far more hazardous to your health then a clean one. So once it’s hot, be sure to give the grill a vigorous brush before you start cooking.
2. Marinate your meats:
Incredibly, marinades can cut the carcinogenic contents of your BBQ by nearly 90 percent. Stick with the homemade stuff—using healthy oils such as olive oil and fresh herbs and spices—and you’ll boost both the flavor and the nutrition content of your main dish.
3. Flip often:
Burgers, chicken, steaks… whatever you’re serving, don’t let it sit. Continuously turning your food over can reduce carcinogenic byproducts from high-heat cooking substantially.
4. Pre-cook and finish fast:
As I mentioned earlier, PAHs form primarily when dripping fats meet flame. One simple solution? Do most of the cooking off the grill—over low temperatures in an oven or skillet—and then finish your meat on an open flame for a faster, safer shot of smoky flavor.
As an added bonus, less time spent slaving over a hot grill means more time to enjoy your guests. Which may be the best of the grilling hacks there is. Because I think we can all agree, that’s the real secret to a successful summer cookout.
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