If grilling is your preferred method of cooking meat, making sure the meat is thoroughly cooked, yet not charred, is vital to your health.
When meat becomes charred, it may develop cancer-causing substances that could be harmful. While you do not need to avoid grilling altogether, you may benefit from carefully cooking, not charring your meat. Always speak to your physician if you are concerned about charred meat consumption.
When meats are cooked at high temperatures over a grill, chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form.
The amount of these compounds depends upon the temperature of the cooked meat and how well-cooked the meat is. The longer and more thoroughly the meat is cooked, the higher the levels of HCAs and PAHs.
Charred pieces of meat are especially concentrated in PAHs, which also are found in cigarette smoke. These compounds are of particular concern because they are mutagenic, which means they can change the DNA of your cells and therefore potentially increase your cancer risk.
Increased consumption of well-done, fried or barbecued meats is associated with a heightened risk for a number of cancers.
This includes colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. This risk is chiefly associated with grilled meats, not vegetables.
Currently, no guidelines exist warning against consumption of grilled, smoked or processed meats.
A 2007 study published in the “Cancer Research” journal studied the effects of cooked meat exposure on rats. The study found meats cooked at high temperatures contribute to the formation of HCAs that can contribute to mutations and organ-specific cancers.
After 20 weeks exposure to cooked meats, rats developed cancer-causing cells in the ventral lobe of the prostate. However, the researchers noted the mutations associated with cooked meats are necessary for cancer formation, but it does not necessarily mean the foods will always cause cancer.
In addition to not overcooking your meat, you also can pre-cook your food before grilling to reduce the amount of PAHs.
Stephanie Meyers, a nutritionist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, recommends cooking thin pieces of meat in the microwave for 60 seconds, while cooking thick pieces of meat for 90 seconds at a time, allowing juices to drain and reducing the likelihood charring will occur when grilling, constantly turning your meat over as you cook it can help to reduce production of carcinogens.
You should carefully clean your grill rack before grilling to keep previously charred pieces from sticking to your meat. If your meat does become charred, simply cut the pieces off and serve the uncharred portions.