The question of whether it is safe to eat foods — especially meats — cooked on a barbecue  grill has been the subject of controversy the last few years.  Cooking meats at high temperatures causes chemicals called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form, and these chemicals are potentially carcinogenic.  There are things you can do to reduce the formation of these compounds and the risk:

  • Marinate your meat:  Marinades form a barrier between meat and heat, and fewer of these chemicals are formed. Kellie Colihan serves up the science:


Researchers marinated eye of round steaks for an hour in three different store-bought marinades. The meat was coated on all sides and turned several times. Steaks were then grilled at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes on each side.

They also tested steaks with no marinade and those with marinade made only with water, vinegar, and soybean oil.

When the meat was tested for total HCAs, the steak cooked in the Caribbean marinade mixture had an 88% reduction in the “bad” compounds.

Those cooked in the herb marinade had a more than 72% drop in compounds. The Southwest marinade meats had a 57% reduction in compounds.

What did the three store-bought marinades have in common?

They all contained two or more spices from the mint family, which are rich in antioxidants, the researchers note.

  • Prevent those flaming flare-ups:  Burning fat produces smoke that is high in carcinogenic compounds.  Leaner cuts of meat will limit fat drippings and reduce flare-ups. Putting foil over the grill racks will help limit flare-ups, especially when cooking chicken with the skin (can you say “best wings ever?”).
  • Do not char your meat:  If you like your meat well-done (Ughhhhh!), consider zapping it in the microwave before you put it on the grill.  That will effectively shorten the time it spends over the coals and lessen the risk of charring from the heat and smoke.  Cut away any char before eating.
  • Avoid processed meats:  If you read this blog, you already know why.  There are enough cancer-causing chemicals in these forms of “meat” as it is.  If you need to throw on a hot dog, don’t char it!
  • Clean the grates of the grill after using:  It’s easier than cleaning it the next time you grill.  When you are done grilling, close the lid and set your grill to high for 10 minutes.  (Set an alarm to remind you to turn it off!)  Then brush the grates clean.
  • Try grilling fruits and vegetables:  In addition to the fact that fruits and veggies have their own natural antioxidants, they don’t form carcinogenic compounds when grilled. Peaches on the grill can be unforgettable!


Which brings to mind a great recipe for baby back ribs on the grill:


  • Cut slabs of baby back ribs in half (one whole rack per very hungry eater, half a rack for the rest of us), marinate overnight with dry rub of your choice (I eyeball-measure brown sugar, cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and anything else that grabs my attention in the spice rack).
  • Bake ribs on a cookie sheet/baking pan, covered with foil, at 250 degrees for 3-4 hours.
  • Remove ribs, allow to cool a bit.  Light up the grill and get it hot.
  • Take some fresh peaches, cut them in half, soak in some water for 5 minutes (I usually put a tablespoon of peach preserves in the water), then place on the grill over low heat (use a higher rack or a cooler part of the grill).
  • Grill the ribs over medium-high heat for 2-4 minutes per side, then remove from grill.  Remove peaches as well.
  • Apply your favorite barbecue sauce to the ribs after they’re off the grill.


Feel free to share your own special recipes for the grill at The PediaBlog!


(Image: jackthumm/