How We Grill Really Matters

Backyard grills across the Lowcountry are getting quite a workout with summer in full swing.

That’s why Dr. Valerie Scott with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners says now is the perfect time to talk about what meats we’re grilling and how we’re grilling them.

First, traditional cookout foods such as hamburgers and hot dogs are not heart healthy. There is a clear association between diets heavy with red and/or processed meats and an increased risk of colorectal cancers, regardless of the way those foods are cooked.  

Secondly, cooking meats at high temperatures causes them to produce cancer-causing chemicals. The two chemicals that have been identified are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are formed when muscle meat is exposed to high temperatures or smoke.

Beef has the greatest potential to form heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) when cooked over high heat. “Both of these are carcinogens and we know over time if you eat a lot of grilled meats, you have a higher instance of cancer,” says Dr. Scott.

When you increase the temperature from 390 degrees to 482 degrees, you increase the production of these carcinogens three-fold.  

Dr. Scott recommends that we choose to grill other foods such as fish, chicken and vegetables. If you must cook red meat, “marinate it first with oils and seasonings.” This will reduce the formation of HCAs by up to 96 percent. 

Precooking meat in the oven or the microwave also will reduce the formation of the PAHs. The PAHs are deposited onto the meat by smoke, so the shorter time they are exposed, the less PAH is deposited.

Placing aluminum foil on the grill will help to decrease the formation of carcinogens by limiting smoke exposure.  Cleaning the grill and removing the old char also will help. Finally, keep the heat as low as possible.