Acrylamide in high-carbohydrate foods is one concern when it comes to cooking at high temperatures. But it's far from the only concern. Grilling and other high-heat methods that expose meat to very high temperatures create potentially cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Moreover, when fat drips on the heat source, the resulting plumes of smoke can coat meat with other dangerous chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The worst offenders are fatty, well-done (and charred) beef, pork and lamb, but even poultry and fish produce HCAs when seared.If you love grilling, here are ways to reduce the risks:
- Choose lean cuts and trim any visible fat so that less fat drips during cooking.
- Marinate meat before you grill it. This can decrease HCAs by 60 to 90 percent, researchers have found. Use your own combinations of cider, citrus juices, vegetable oils, vinegar, mustard, herbs and spices, and even beer and wine. Sugars tend to increase HCAs, however, so watch out for commercial tomato or BBQ sauces that have a lot of added sugar.
- Precook meat in the microwave or oven, discard the juices, then finish on the grill.
- Use lower heat by waiting for the coals to burn less hot or by turning the gas down.
- Don’t place the meat directly over the coals: that way the fat won’t drip on them.
- Raise the grill rack farther from the heat.
- Flip the meat frequently to avoid charring, and grill just until the meat is cooked through and safe to eat. Use smaller pieces (like kabobs), which cook faster.
- Go vegetarian. When veggie burgers, tofu and vegetables are grilled, there is little or no formation of HCAs.
- Stay upwind from grills to avoid breathing in smoke, which also carries health risks. No smoke is good smoke.
Keep in mind: Pan-frying and broiling at high temperatures also produce HCAs. Instead, steam, poach, microwave, stew, roast or bake, when possible. Don’t consume the pan drippings, since they can be high in HCAs—and fat.