BBQ Cooking: Does Grilling Cause Cancer?

What are the health ramifications, especially related to cancer, of BBQ grilling meat over an open flame?

Barbecue is sometimes promoted as a healthier style of cooking. When compared to cooking methods like frying which have long been considered extremely unhealthy, grilling appears to be less fatty. Along with reducing fat intake, barbecue may limit exposure to dangerous compounds created when cooking oil is heated. Usually, barbecuing takes place outdoors, which means it won’t normally affect indoor air quality. Even with all those benefits, there are some serious concerns about cooking foods — especially meat — over an open flame. The main concern is cancer.

How Barbecue Might Increase Cancer Risk

When meat is heated over an open flame, there is the potential for two sets of carcinogenic compounds to form. Creatine is an organic acid in meat prized by bodybuilders and that may have various health benefits and one major downside. The downside is that it turns into cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) when heated. The other carcinogenic compound shows up when the fat from cooking meat drips down onto hot coals. The burning fat rises as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the smoke and sticks to the meat.

At this point, it is important to note that neither of the above chemicals has been proven to cause cancer in humans. They have caused cancer in lab animals at higher doses than humans are likely to consume. There is also an association between grilled meat intake and a precursor of colon cancer known as colorectal adenoma.

How to Lower the Cancer Risk of Barbecued Meat

The first step that some experts suggest is to avoid charcoal as a cooking fuel given the risk of PAHs being created. Given that there is no proof of charcoal being more likely to cause cancer than any other cooking fuel, grill cooks may want to try one of two other suggested methods for lowering cancer risk:

Marination

Marinating meat is good for more than just tenderness and flavor. Marination appears to lower the cancer risk from grilled meats. Researchers found that marinating meat for at least 20 minutes before grilling lowered the concentration of carcinogenic compounds by 72 percent according to one study. One contributing factor to the health benefits of marinades may be the presence of herbs that contain powerful antioxidants.

Microwaving

By microwaving meat before grilling it, it is possible to release some of the fat. The fat is what causes the barbecue flare-ups and generates the PAHs. Microwaving also lessens the time the meat has to spend over the flame. Less time means less exposure to carcinogens.

Leaner Cuts

The cancer risk from consuming grilled meat may be reduced with leaner cuts. There isn’t as much fat in the leaner meat, so there will be less to melt and drip onto the coals and produce the PAHs.

Clean The Grill

The accumulation of charred gunk on grill grates may lead to some of the compounds being transferred to food. The danger can be limited by a thorough cleaning of grates with each cooking session.

Line the Grill

Protecting meat from carcinogens in burning fat makes it safer to eat. A cook can reduce the amount of fat that gets to the coals by lining grill grates with foil. To ensure that the meat does get some flavor benefits from the smoke and for better ventilation, the cook can poke some holes in the foil.

Whether or not cooking over an open flame increases cancer risk, it makes sense to be aware of the danger and take precautions just in case. The simple steps above may help to keep exposure low.

References:

  1. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452244/
  2. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15199546/
  3. pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf404966w

CancerFood SciencePopular
Comments ( 19 )
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  • Sam

    Life is to be lived joyfully, not fearfully with an eye over your shoulder that everything will kill you. We will all die anyway.
    Have a good Canada Day and Independence Day BBQ!

  • Dave

    I’ll continue regardless, life’s too short to be overly concerned about these small risks. I do use lean cuts of meat and marinade because that gives a better result. Using foil in cooking is not a good idea though, aluminum can cause problems. Better to wrap in butcher paper.

  • Mike

    Well said.
    .

  • Jason

    Suck my tube steak lefty

  • Rudy Gyuka

    Sous vide BBQ back ribs…hmm. also don’t forgot even simple coating of your steak/meat with Avocado/ EVOO will cut HCA formation dramatically! And don’t forget grill design, I re-designed my flavourizer bars above my burners to help flow excess fat down the angled bars to the cool bottom catch tray, without hitting the flame directly; minimizing PHA’s. BTW, Kefir/high probiotic yogourts makes a GREAT addition to ANY meat marinade…add spices to your heart’s content.😃

  • FrankT

    I LOVE bullsh*t articles like this. I count the weasel words:
    Might
    Potential
    Neither … has been proven
    No proof…

    And then they say to “take precautions” against THE DANGER! What danger? Hundreds of studies over decades and they still have to say “no proof”. Did a meat hating vegan write this article?

  • Roy Tsutsui

    NOTHING is safe? Everything someone can think of to CONTROL you! I don’t know who thinks this 💩 up but they must be a vegan, don’t grill your fuc*ing tofu.👎🤮🤢

  • Michael R

    Grilling is not barbecue !

  • Anthony

    Love your comments. Love life full and most importantly THINK FOR YOURSELF

    • mmcdtech

      Epidemiology is not science. Please try and find a Randomized Control Trial. Meat is very healthy.

  • ThreeGig

    I loved how we should cook with foil to reduce the risk. When in fact it “might” increase the “chances” of dementia to forget about all the cancer risk and this article. Roy, your comment was spot on!

  • Anthony

    Great comments. Live life full and more importantly THINK FOR YOURSELF

  • Ron Tippitt

    So tired of fake studies designed to influence our behavior

    You can not tell me how to live and I will never eat your fake meat

  • Joe

    It cracks me up out sensitive people are to articles like this. The article just provides information that some may want to take into account to reduce cancer risk, but then there are a bunch of comments from oversensitive douchebags who feel like it is somehow a personal attack on their manhood. Hahaha. 😀

  • KnowTheDifference

    Barbecue & grilling are 2 totally different things. The fact that the author doesn’t know this should lead you to discount everything said. Barbecuing is when you cook on low and slow using indirect heat over a period of typically 8 to 24 hours. Grilling is when you cook on high and fast with direct heat over a period of an hour or less.

  • Richard

    Wondering if you are one of those that didn’t get the covid shots because my body my rights along with this bs you published

  • T.J. Clemons

    You lost ne at microwave lol

  • Dale

    It’s a communist plot to ruin outdoor cooking.

  • Robert Paulson

    Three sources?!? Three!!! What kind of BS, wannabe scientific article is this?! Could you not make it writing textbooks for high school classes? Do you really think that your paltry sources constitute any sort of research besides those undertaken by the Fox News crowd? Go back to keeping your worthless opinions to yourself.