Make grilling meat safe from health risks

Grilling meat can present some health risks. Learn how to protect your food from harmful compounds.

Grilling is one of America’s favorite summer activities, whether at home, camping or tailgating. People love the taste of the grill. But did you know that the taste the grill gives your food has been linked to certain health risks? According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), grilled meat, poultry and fish have been linked to certain cancer causing compounds. These compounds are called heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). These compounds are formed when the meat drips onto the hot coals or flames, creating flares to rise and smoke deposits compounds on the meat.

Michigan State University Extension says that this does not mean you have to give up grilling – it simply means you need to take some food safety steps when using your grill. The following recommendations from the AICR will make your grilling experience a healthy and enjoyable one.

  • First, remember to include vegetables and fruit in your grilling menu. They present less of a risk for developing these compounds. Skew your favorite fruits and vegetables or put them in a grilling pan. Brush them with a little oil to prevent drying, and cook until tender.
  • Second, use smaller pieces of meat and consider marinating your meat. Trim your meat of all fat and grill slowly over low heat, flipping with tongs or a spatula. Marinating meat has been shown to significantly reduce the HCA’s. Having leaner meat will prevent the flare-ups and smoke. Precooking meat before you place it on the grill will reduce the grill cooking time and the meats exposure to smoke and flare-ups. If your meat does get charred, cut off the burnt areas before eating.

Marinades have been shown to be a protective layer on meat. Consider marinating with ingredients such as vinegar, citrus fruit, herbs, spices, olive oil and canola or safflower oil. Marinating for 30 minutes prior to cooking may significantly reduce the grilling risks. Try a classic marinade recipe such as:

1/2 cup of rice or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon of canola, safflower or olive oil

1/4 cup of finely chopped onion

1 small bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon rosemary, thyme or oregano

2 cloves of minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

Grilling is a safe and healthy way to cook with these few simple steps to protect your meats. For more information on food safety and grilling visit

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