Does Grilling Cause Cancer? Here are the Steps to Minimize the Risk

Does Grilling Cause Cancer

Does grilling cause cancer? Although plenty of people eat grilled meat each day, you may have heard of recent studies that have linked food cooked at high temperature with cancer. 

In this article, we will be going over everything you need to know about this topic, along with how to minimize your risk the next time you decide to grill.​

What Links Cancer to Grilled Food?​

Cooking food at high temperatures can result on the formation of 2 known carcinogens: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). 

HCAs are formed when meat is cooked above 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  At these temperatures, creatine and amino acids react to create HCAs. The National Cancer Institute has found that if you consume large amounts of HCAs, there is a direct link to colon, breast, skin, liver, prostate, and lung cancers. 

PAH's have been linked to leukemia and are formed when fat drippings are vaporized into smoke which then coats the meat. 

While the carcinogens formed from high heat are concerning, below we outline the steps you can take in order to minimize your risk to these hazards​.

What to Do to Minimize Your Risk​

Marinate Your Meat​

​For reasons unknown, scientists have found that marinade can create a barrier between harmful carcinogens and meat. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, you should marinate your meat for at least a half hour to help prevent consumption of HCAs.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the type of marinade you use can be a potential factor in how you are affected by carcinogens. Kansas State University recently performed a study with the Food Science Institute and found that Southwestern marmalade mix has less effect against carcinogens than Carribean marmalade by nearly 31%.​

Marinades form a barrier between carcinogens and meat

Skip Processed Meats​

​According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, you should skip on sausages, hot dogs, or any other form of processed meat. Although they may taste great, they include cancer-prone materials added during the preservation process.

Recent studies have shown that eating these type of meats can cause you to be at higher risk of colorectal cancer.​

Grill Less Frequently​

Since extend grilling times can expose you to carcinogens, when you grill less you’ll have less of a chance increasing your risk of cancer. You can also try grilling fish instead of beef or chicken since they take much less time to cook.​

However, the American Institute for Cancer Research also suggests that you microwave your food before grilling since you can deplete nearly 90% of HCAs by doing this first. However, you should also remember to get your food on the grill as soon as possible to eliminate any bacterial contamination.​

Keep the Flames Low​

Try to keep the flames in your grill low and controlled. This will make it more difficult for meats to char and burn and limit the production of carcinogens that can cause cancer. Try turning the heat settings on your grill to low.​

​You can also keep food away from the flames by putting a layer of tin foil between the grill’s rack and the food. Doing this can also limit any flare ups and reduce the amount of smoke covering the meat. Just remember to poke a few holes in the foil so the fat can drain.

Grill Fruits and Vegetables​

​HCAs and PAHs only form in muscle proteins in meats. By switching to fruits, veggies, and veggie burgers, you can protect your health and still taste the grilled flavor.

​In fact, veggies and fruits can actually limit specific types of cancers. This is because of the phytochemicals they contain. So not only could you limit your risk of developing cancer, but also limit the effects of certain cancers.

HCAs & PAHs only form in meat proteins, so add some veggies.

Avoid Well-Done Meats

​If you are a fan if charred meat, we have some bad news for you. According to a study completed by the University of Minnesota, regularly eating charred meats can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by 60%. Researchers came to this conclusion after studying the eating habits of over 62,000 people over the course of 9 years.

When planning for your next barbecue, opt for lean meats. If you do want to cook fattier meats, make sure you trim off the excess fat. The less fat there is, the less PAHs are created when the fat drippings are rendered into smoke. 

You should also flip your meats often to reduce the production of HCAs by up to 95%. If you absolutely cannot live without your charred meats, consider cutting off the char before you eat.

Clean Your Grill

When you are finished cooking, scrape off all the charred residue that has been left on the grill grates. Failure to do so could lead to HCAs transferring to your food the next time you cook on your grill.

A clean grill also has other benefits, like preventing flare-ups which we cover in a separate article here


Thanks to new emerging research, we now know there are links to meats cooked at high temperatures and cancer.  However, this does not mean you must completely give up on grilling altogether. Follow the steps above and you can greatly reduce the risks.  

Have any questions or comments?  Let us know below!

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