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Grilling Tips for a Healthy Summer

Kitty Finklea, RD, AFAA-CPT

Summer is one of the most popular times of year to grill. While we think of grilling as a healthy method of preparing meats, there are potential health risks depending on what you cook and how it is grilled.

There are two potential carcinogens to protect meat from when grilling: heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a compound produced during high-heat cooking methods like broiling, frying, and grilling any type of meat, poultry or seafood; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a compound produced when fat drips on the flames and coats the meat with smoke.

Here are 10 safe-grilling tips to reduce exposure to these potential-cancer causing substances:

  1. Scrub the grill before cooking. Remove any charred substances to prevent old char transferring to food.
  2. Marinate, marinate, marinate. Marinating not only makes meat more tender and flavorful but can significantly reduce HCAs, especially when herbs such as rosemary, turmeric, or ginger are added. Marinate in the refrigerator for two to four hours or overnight. Seafood needs less time – about 2 hours. Discard the marinade and use a clean plate when you take food off the grill.
  3. Trim the fat. Lean, well-trimmed meats (loin and round), skinless poultry and seafood contain less fat to drip into the flames. Watch out for high-fat meats such as ribs, sausage, ribeyes, etc. These have the highest risk of producing HCAs.
  4. Pre-cook meats in the oven or microwave . Discard any juices and briefly grill for added flavor.
  5. Keep meat, poultry, and seafood portions small. That way they spend shorter time on the grill. Skewered kabobs cook the fastest.
  6. Fix the drips. Avoid letting juices drip into the flames or coals and causing smoke and flare-ups: keep a spray bottle of water handy to control flames, use tongs or a spatula instead of piercing meat with a fork, cover the grill with punctured aluminum foil, and avoid placing meats directly over coals.
  7. Flip frequently. Turn meats often to minimize charring and use lower temperatures by waiting on coals to burn down or turning the gas down, or moving the grilling rack farther from the flames.
  8. Remove all charred or burned portions of food before eating. Slicing off the charred part and discarding it will help keep you from eating potential carcinogens.
  9. Grill more fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies do not produce HCAs, so make sure to add plenty to the grill. Try grilling fruits and veggies on skewers, a grilling tray or wrapped in foil. Keep meats separate from veggies and fruit when prepping and grilling.
  10. Use a meat thermometer. Grilled meats can look done on the outside but might be undercooked. Place the thermometer into the deepest part of the meat, but not right next to the bone. Temperatures vary depending on the type of meat:

For beef, veal, lamb, the ideal temperatures are 145 F for medium rare, 160 F for medium and ground meats, and 170 for well done.

For pork, the ideal temperatures are 160 F for medium and 170 F for well done.

For poultry, the ideal temperatures are 165 F for ground chicken and turkey, 170 F for poultry breasts and 180 F for whole poultry and thighs.

For fish and seafood, the ideal temperature is 145 F.

Keep these tips in mind this summer and enjoy your grilled meats knowing you’ve done your best to reduce the potential carcinogens you eat.



HopeHealth educates its patients on the importance of having a health care home. As a primary care facility, HopeHealth’s medical team works to prevent and detect illness and the early onset of disease, provide routine physical examinations and promote overall healthy lifestyles.

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