This would be the kind of news nobody wants to hear when barbecuing in the back yard. Research suggests that cooking meats in this fashion might increase the risk of cancer. Grilling meat over an intense heat for a long period of time causes two compounds to form that can lead to this disease. The black, charred bits on the outside contain one of these carcinogens and the other is deep within the meat.
To keep the second type from forming you should keep the meat moist and avoid high temperatures for longer than ten minutes. But, this is a catch twenty-two situation for barbecue chefs. In order to kill E-coli bacteria and prevent food poisoning you have to cook burgers and chicken well enough and for a sufficient time to avoid sickening your guests. The two harmful compounds in question are called PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines).
The American Cancer Society has found that when the fat drips off the meat and hits the charcoal, PAHs can rise up with the smoke and get deposited on the food. The hotter the temperature and the longer the meat is on the grill, the more HCAs are formed. People who frequently eat well done, fried and barbecued meats could be more susceptible to colorectal, pancreatic and breast cancers.
Cooking on a charcoal grill can make the air around you toxic. A study conducted by scientists from Rice University in 2003 found that microscopic fragments of polyunsaturated fatty acids produced by barbecue grills were making the air in Houston worse. Bags of charcoal that are sold in Canada are required by law to show the potential risks of using this product. Warning labels are printed on all of the bags. There is no such regulation in the United States.
Are there any ways to avoid this? With burgers and steaks it’s as simple as trimming the fat. The less fat there is the better shape your heart will be in and less fat will drip through the barbecue grill on top of the coals. Eat smaller cuts of meat too.
If you’re planning to cook fish fillets on the barbecue, wrap it in foil. They will taste better and will stay moist. This is the key to preventing the chemical reaction inside fish that produces carcinogens at high temperatures.
Skinless chicken may be better for you because it has less fat. But, the HCAs could be higher because when you grill the meat much of the moisture will be lost. Removing the skin after cooking it will reduce this risk. An even better way to prepare chicken is to soak the meat in a marinade for ten minutes. This will help to retain the moisture. You can try putting it in the microwave for a few minutes, but this will make the chicken rubbery.
Grilling on a good quality gas bbq is another way to avoid the potential carcinogens that would come from cooking on a charcoal grill.
Eat fewer hot dogs because these are filled with nitrites, preservatives that have been linked to cancer. Alternatively, put more vegetables on the grill. Try not to burn them to a crisp because PAHs form in any food that is burned. However, HCAs do not form in vegetables. If you’re a barbecue lover buy smaller, leaner cuts of meat and throw on more corn cobs, onions, peppers and mushrooms.