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Meat, cooking and BBQ: what you need to know

Who does not like the good smell of a steak or skewer cooking on a barbecue grill? At this time of the year, many BBQ fans enjoy it, using it every day, if not every weekend. Not only does it smell good, but it is a zen and relaxing activity to be outside preparing our meal…

But did you know that cooking at high temperatures – such as pan-frying or grilling directly over an open flame – creates certain chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)? Indeed, the more the meat is brown and charred, and the more the formation of these compounds is great.

Updated May 2021

The main risk comes from when fat and juices from meat grilled (beef, veal, lamb, pork, etc.), poultry or fish, directly over a heated surface or open fire drip onto the surface or fire, causing flames and smoke and charring your food. The smoke contains PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. Some research suggests that burned or charred meat may increase the risk of cancer. In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic—that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer. In animal studies, heterocyclic amines are carcinogenic (causing cancer). However, evidence in human studies is unclear. Nevertheless, when in doubt, you may wish to be a bit more careful with your cooking habits and reduce your exposure to charred meats.

So, what do we do?

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, ideally, cook meat, poultry, and seafood at lower temperatures by braising, stewing, steaming, or roasting.

If you barbecue, choose leaner cuts of meat, poultry, and seafood. Trim off visible fat. This will reduce the number of harmful chemicals that develop from the smoke created by burning fat. A healthy diet is low in saturated and trans fats. Minimize consumption of red meat and processed meat.

To prevent charring, barbecue slowly and keep the food away from the hot coals so that flames are less likely to engulf the food.

Marinades to the rescue – Did you know?

According to some studies, marinating meat for as little as 10 to 20 minutes can reduce the formation of carcinogens by as much as 90%. In addition to limiting the presence of potentially carcinogenic agents in the meat, the marinade also keeps the meat tender and adds flavor to your meal. Use an oil-free marinade (ideally) containing a strong acidic agent, such as lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, would be a starting point.

In closing, know that this is only for cooking meat, poultry, fish. Charred fruits and vegetables are not carcinogenic, though not very tasty when burned.

Sites that could be of interest
Grill Recipes by Steven Raichlen
BBQ Recipes

Sources and references
Public Health Agency of Canada – What can I do to reduce my risk of cancer?
National Cancer Institute – Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk
WHO – Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat

Written by PROCURE. © All rights reserved – 2021

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