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Q: Does grilling pose any health threats?

Posted July 02, 2014 in Advice Column, Ames

A: When proteins in meat, chicken and fish are cooked at searing high temperatures, carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (or HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (or PAHs) can naturally form, especially where meat is charred. While research on the health effects isn’t conclusive, the quality of the meat is better if you avoid charring. To limit the dangers, remember to use leaner cuts of meat so there’s less fat dripping down on the coals to cause flare-ups. Also, remember to trim any visible fat from the meat before cooking and pull the skin off the chicken. Making sure your grill grates are clean also helps. Clean the grill prior to each use to remove any food that adhered from previous use. Do this by preheating on high for 10 to 15 minutes for a gas grill, or for charcoal grilling, let the coals burn to a white-gray ash. Once heated, the grill can be cleaned off with a grill brush. Keep a water bottle handy to limit any flare-ups.

Spending less time on the grill also cuts down on carcinogens. Flip food frequently to prevent crusting, and scrape off charred areas before eating meat, poultry or fish. Cutting meat into smaller pieces and skewering them so less time is spent over the fire is recommended.

Information from, provided by Nicole Arnold, RDN, West Ames Hy-Vee dietitian, 515-292-5543,

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