The reason their has been concern about grilling and cancer is that cooking meats at high temperatures, such as grilling, can lead to two main types of potentially cancer-causing substances.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), found in flames, can rise and adhere to meat on an open fire.
- Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form in meat when animal proteins react to the intense heat of the grill.
Whether or not you grill them, the research is clear that diets high in red meat increase risk of colorectal cancer, and that even small amounts of processed meats, eaten regularly, increase risk for both colorectal and stomach cancers. The recommendation is to limit red meat to 18 ounces of cooked meat per week and saving hot dogs and other processed meats (bacon, sausages, etc.) for special occasions.
Even though there is no clear evidence showing HCAs and PAHs increase risk for cancer, there are some simple precautions you can take while grilling.
1. Shorten Grilling Time: If you are grilling larger cuts, you can reduce the time meat is exposed to the flames by partially cooking it in a microwave, oven or stove first. Immediately place the partially cooked meat on the preheated grill to keep meat safe from bacteria and other food pathogens. You can also cut meat into smaller portions before grilling. (This tip will also help you avoid dry overcooked meat.)
2. Trim the Fat: Trimming the fat off meat can reduce flare-ups and charring. Cook meat in the center of the grill and make sure to flip frequently.
3. Grill Green (Or Orange or Yellow or Multicolor): Grilled vegetables and fruits produce no HCAs or other potentially harmful compounds, and diets high in plant foods are associated with lower cancer risk. (Don't forget you can roast potatoes and other root vegetables in foil packets on the grill.)