Five Tips for Safe Grilling

By Milette Siler, Registered Dietitian

Labor Day is around the corner, and many of us will cook some food on the grill this weekend. This can bring up questions around safe grilling practices and cancer risk exposure.

Grilling meats can produce substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are harmful carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). I recommend five simple tips for reducing your risk while still enjoying the grilling season.

  1. Cut back: Current research shows we should eat no more than 12 to 18 ounces of meat per week. Make hot dogs or sausage a rare treat, as these more heavily processed meats have the strongest association with increased cancer risk.
  2. Pre-cook: If you are grilling a larger cut, consider pre-cooking your meat in the oven, slow-cooker, or stove-top first to limit grill exposure.
  3. Marinate: Studies show that marinating meat for at least 30 minutes before grilling cuts down on the formation of harmful HCAs.
  4. Go leaner: Choosing less fatty cuts of meat decreases grill flare-ups and charring, both related to increased damage.
  5. Add plants: Cutting meat into smaller portions and adding fruit and vegetables adds moist flavor, and these grilled plant foods do not form HCAs. So, get colorful!