Do Charcoal Grills Cause Cancer?

Charcoal fire grill top

There are many myths and rumors around charcoal grill causing cancer. However, there is no real proof that the two are connected. Although cooking meat at the high temperatures you find with grills can create what’s called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are some carbons linked with certain cancers.

The Breakdown

Heterocyclic amines form in foods which are rich in protein when they are cooked at a very high heat, such as heat from a backyard barbecue. The aromatic hydrocarbons occur when fat from those foods drips and burns on the grill, creating smoke. As that smoke surrounds your meat, the compounds can deposit themselves on whatever it is that you’re cooking and consume it.

Studies Say

There are many studies surrounding the topic of charcoal grills causing cancer. However one interesting study from shows that regularly eating well-done meet, regardless of the cooking style, has been linked to humans having a 60 percent higher chance of developing pancreatic cancer.

Our diets can be deeply affected by the choices we make, and we all have our benefits and negatives to our cravings. An increased risk of breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, prostate, and other various cancers have been linked to those with diets high in HCAs according to the National Cancer Institute. Whereas diets high in PAH have been linked to leukemia, GI, and even lung cancer.

What To Do

While you’re grilling your favorite meat, poultry, and fish there are some precautions you can take to avoid these things.

Try finding leaner cuts of meat. The leaner the cut of meat, the less fat there will be to drip onto the grill. Fish and chicken contain lower levels of the amino acids which lead to the production of harmful HCAs. We sometimes know the skin is the best part, but try choosing skinless chicken as this can help as well.

Another good tip to know while grilling is the shorter the time time, and the higher the heat, the healthier. So if you choose healthier options, such as salmon over steak, the less time there is for the compounds to form and stick to the food you’re preparing.

What you choose as your side dish can also have an effect on your health. Fruits and vegetables are nature’s cancer-fighting side dish. They may even be enough to reduce the damaging implications of that overdone meat. Plus it only takes them a mere matter of minutes on the grill to absorb that smokey flavor from the charcoal.

So even though it hasn’t been proven that charcoal grills are a link to cancer, there are plenty of other health concerns to worry about when it comes to grilling your food. It’s obvious however that we need to put a little more thought into not only what we’re putting into our bodies, but how we’re preparing it as well.


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