This summer, you’ll probably spend some time manning your backyard grill, tending to burgers, hot dogs, steaks, and chicken while knocking back a cold one or two. But those grill marks that make their way onto your grilled meat carry a dirty secret: Charred meat can give you cancer.
The Washington Post has published a must-read article that looks into all the evidence surrounding the carcinogenic properties of meat cooked at high temperatures or over open flames, and it doesn’t look too good. Apparently, when any type of meat is cooked on a surface hot enough to cause browning, heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. The longer the meat is cooked over high heat, the more of these groups of chemicals are formed. Enzymes in our bodies then interact with these chemicals, turning them into compounds that can damage DNA, leading to cancer.
In order to reduce the amount of these carcinogenic chemicals that form on your meat, try to reduce the amount of browning that occurs while it’s cooking; a few techniques include marinating meat, flipping it so often that no char develops, and starting meat in the microwave so it doesn’t need as much time on the grill. These strategies aren’t ideal if you’re looking for that perfectly seared burger or nicely browned chicken breast, of course, but sadly it appears as if the alternative is much worse.