Healthy Summer Grilling

Last updated: Jul 01, 2013

The warm, lazy days of summer invite us to cook outside with family and friends.

But did you know that eating charred grilled foods
might increase your risk of cancer?

Studies show they might!

When fat from grilled foods catches fire, chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HAs) can form and stick to the surface of the food.

PAHs and HAs can cause changes in DNA that might increase your risk of cancer. Although there is no definitive link yet between PAHs, HAs and cancer, data from a National Cancer Institute survey of more than 300,000 people suggest an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer in people who often ingest charred sections of well-done and barbecued meats. 1

But you can still enjoy grilling a wide variety of meats, including chicken and fish as well as vegetables and avoid potentially harmful PAHs and HAs!

To ensure your grilled foods are as healthy as possible:

  • Choose lean and extra lean cuts of chicken, turkey, and ground beef to minimize dripping fat and reduce PAH/HA exposure
    In addition to reducing saturated fat and cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends grilling only lean meats and trimming all visible fat before grilling2
  • Clean your grill before each use and wipe the grill rack with canola oil and a paper towel
    A clean grill can help prevent food from sticking and forming PAHs and HAs2
  • Microwave all meat, including chicken and fish, before grilling it 
    Precooking meat and having it on the grill for less time can help reduce the amount of PAHs and HAs to which you are exposed1
  • Don't overcook meat
    Well-done grilled meats contain higher levels of potentially harmful HAs compared with meat that is medium (160° F) or medium-rare (145° F). Insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally into the thickest part of burgers and steaks, avoiding the bone, fatty areas, and grill to find out its accurate temperature3
  • Avoid charred meat that is exposed to smoke
    Cut off and remove the black, charred portions of grilled food before you eat them1
  • Marinate meat before grilling
    Marinating meat before grilling it can help minimize potentially harmful HAs.4 Use ½ cup marinade or 1 tablespoon of spice rub for each pound of meat. For food safety and to prevent illness, always discard leftover marinade or rub2
  • Turn meat with tongs or a spatula instead of a fork to avoid piercing it and letting the juices run out and cause charring
    Juices and melting fat can catch fire and create PAHs and HAs. Turn meat often while cooking to help minimize HAs1
  • Grill fish, chicken, turkey, and vegetables in lieu of red meat
    The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends limiting red meat such as beef, lamb, and pork to a maximum of 18 ounces per week to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer4


Find out how
you can cut calories when cooking out!




1. National Cancer Institute. Chemicals in meat cooked at high temperatures and cancer risk. Accessed July 1, 2013.
2. American Heart Association. Healthy marinating and grilling. Accessed July 1, 2013.
3. Safe and healthy meat grilling tips.  Accessed July 1, 2013
4. American Institute for Cancer Research. Grill smart this season. Accessed July 1, 2013.