Grill for Your Health

Pineapple burgerGrilling is a healthy and delicious way to cook when done correctly but there can be some drawbacks to grilling. For example, when protein in meat becomes charred from the flame, smoke, and high heat from the grill, the protein reacts and becomes possible cancer-causing agents called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Follow these tips to ensure you’re grilling healthfully for you, your family, and friends at the next cookout.

Be lean with protein. Let’s start in the grocery store where you’re buying your meat. Choose lean protein meats and make sure to trim excess fat. When fat drips from the meat to the heat, flames and smoke form. Leaner cuts include the word loin or round. Skinless chicken breast and seafood are also good options.

Don’t be afraid to use a marinade. You’ve chosen your meat, now to prepare it for the grill. Instead of slathering BBQ sauce onto your meat which will drip off and cause smoke, try using a marinade. Ingredients in a marinade such as vinegar, citrus juice, vegetable oil, garlic, and herbs such as  basil, thyme, rosemary, and mint contain antioxidants which may prevent carcinogen formation. Just marinate meat for 10 minutes before putting on the grill. If you’re making burgers, add garlic and herbs to not only prevent HCA formation but add extra flavor cooked in with every bite.

Size matters. If the meat isn’t on the grill long, there’s less time for the HCAs to form. Kebabs are a great way to cut down on the time meat is on the grill. It’s also a good way to incorporate more fruits and veggies (but that’s another post altogether).

Jump start chicken with the microwave. If you want to use larger pieces that will need more cooking time, pop them in the microwave. Microwaving chicken for 2-5 minutes prior to grilling can result in a significant reduction in HCAs. Just drain away the juices and finish on the grill.

Clean the grill. While your meat is marinating or precooking in the microwave, go out and scrape off the grill. All that sauce, meat, and fat from the last cookout will become more concentrated with HCAs every time you turn on the heat and get into your fresh, new meat.

Don’t cross-contaminate. Make sure you have a clean plate to put your cooked items on after grilling. Do not put finished items on the same plate you used when they were raw.  Also, use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling food.

Go low. As discussed before, high temperatures burn the meat creating the HCAs. Grill with a lower heat or wait for the charcoal flames to go down to decrease the amount of charring.

Don’t trust your eyes. Use a grill thermometer like this one. Make sure you put it in the thickest part of the meat, avoiding bone and fat. Poultry should be cooked to 165°F.Ground meat should be cooked to 160°F. Steak, pork, and seafood should be cooked 145°F.

Now that you are prepared, get out there and get to grilling!

*Nutrition Note fruit and vegetables don’t contain high amounts of protein therefore charring them will not create large amounts of HCA


Drake, Jeanine. (2014, August 11). “Mountain medicine: brush up on barbecue, summer food safety.” Retrieved from

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