Steak and beans on a grill
Photo: Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images
It's better than deep-frying, but grilling has its own health risks. Here's how to barbecue the same delicious food this summer, hold the carcinogens.
Where there's smoke, there are cancer-causing by-products. So say scientists, who have found that barbecuing meat can produce two types of carcinogens: heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which form when meat begins to char, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which accumulate when smoke rises from the coals and onto your burger. But there's no need to haul the grill to the curb. Here's how to make your next steak or burger healthy and delicious.

1. Choose lean cuts. What's bad for your heart is also bad news for fighting cancer: When fat drips onto hot coals, it can produce a cloud of smoke filled with PAHs, which "have been associated with colorectal and pancreatic cancers," says Rashmi Sinha, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute.

2. Pour on the antioxidants. Meat that's been marinated in a mixture of herbs, including thyme, red pepper, black pepper, allspice, rosemary, and chives, has been shown to contain 88 percent fewer carcinogens after grilling, compared with meat that's grilled without any marinade. "These herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants, which help prevent the formation of HCAs during the cooking process," says study author J. Scott Smith, PhD, professor of food chemistry at Kansas State University. Marinate for at least an hour, then lightly baste the meat on the grill. Or try a rub: Adding chopped rosemary directly to ground beef or steak can also reduce cancer-causing agents, says Smith.

3. Fire up the microwave. Briefly cook steaks or chicken breasts in the microwave ahead of time, then throw them on the grill for a final sear—and those signature crosshatch marks. According to the National Cancer Institute, microwaving meat for two minutes before grilling reduces HCA levels by up to 90 percent.

4. Stop smoking. When grilling fatty meat, like ground chuck, place it on a piece of foil that's been pricked with small holes, says Sinha. The fat can still drip down, but rising smoke won't be able to permeate the meat. To further avoid a PAH-laced smoky haze, flip using a spatula instead of a fork, so juices don't leak out.

5. Tame the flames. Make two piles of coals (on the left and right sides of your charcoal grill), with a drip pan in between—and cook directly over that, says Elizabeth Karmel, author of Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned and executive chef of Hill Country barbecue restaurant in New York City. This diffuses the heat, so it's less likely that any one part of the meat will become charred.

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