How To Reduce Carcinogens in Your BBQ Meat

Steak on flaming grill

Did you hear about the dangers of grilling your meats?  But how many of us can really give up their BBQ when the weather turns nice?  Probably very few.  In fact, I recently had a conversation with my mother’s cardiologist, who is considered to be one of the top specialists in the city.  When I asked him if he ever got tempted by grass fed organic steak on the BBQ (I know his family eats organic), he said, that he eats a BBQ steak once in a while, and added: “You’ve got to live” with a wink.
My children love barbecued meats and I even grill our meat in the winter on our outdoor BBQ. Here are my tips to reduce the formation of harmful chemicals in your meat, poultry or fish:


Marinate, Marinate, Marinate

Marinating your meats can reduce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) by up to 92%. 1 Both PAHs and HCAs are known carcinogens.
Beer, wine, olive oil with lemon and spices, garlic and onion can reduce the levels of both the above substances from 25 to 90%. Light and non alcoholic beer is less effective whereas dark beer and red wine can reduce these harmful substances by up to 87 to 90% respectively.  2
A combination of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic can also lower HCA levels in grilled chicken by as much as 90 percent. 1
Some sources even suggest consuming red wine and beer with your grilled meat.


Time Matters

There longer you marinate your meat, the greater it  seems to reduce the formation of these harmful substances.   The minimum suggested time being 1 hour, when you are in a rush.  Otherwise 6, 8, 12 or more hours seems to be the best amount of time for marination.


Spice Blends Can be Used for Marinating or Add Them to Your Minced Meat

Caribbean, Southwest and Herb mixes also significantly decrease HCAs 3 :
Marination with a Caribbean mixture decreased the total HCA content by as much as 88 percent.
Ingredients of a Caribbean mix include:  Dried thyme,  garlic powder, cinnamon, ground coriander, ground ginger, cayenne pepper, ground allspice, ground nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Marination with a Herb mix decreased HCAs by as much as 72 percent.
Ingredients of a Herb mix include: Dry or fresh sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper.
Also marination with a Southwest blend decreased HCAs by as much as 57 percent.
Ingredients of a Southwest mix include: chili powder, paprika, cayenne, cumin, coriander ground, granulated garlic and onion, salt and pepper.


  Bottom Line

You can easily create your own marinade and rub.  Just combine your favorite herbs and spices, add olive oil, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar or water, onion, garlic and you are done.


Here Are a Few Other Ingredients That Work Well:


Cherries, prunes, apples, blueberries, turmeric, onions and garlic, mustard, paprika, cloves, etc. 4


Frying and Roasting is No Better

Grilling is not an exception, every time you cook your meats at the high temperature, it forms the same unhealthy compounds. 5
“Bake, roast, or stir-fry. Grilling and barbecuing generate the most heat, so they produce the most HCAs. Next comes pan-frying and broiling. Instead, try baking, roasting, or stir-frying. And, if you pan-fry, We recommend lowering the temperature on the stove as the best way to reduce the amount of HCAs, says Knize. Cutting the frying temperature of ground beef from 480[degrees] to 390[degrees], for example, eliminates around 80 percent of the HCAs.”  6


Have Antioxidant Rich Food With Your Meat

 Fresh salad and vegetables are good to mitigate the grilling.  Spinach and cruciferous varieties such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts are also highly recommended.  So are the fermented foods, such as sour krout and of course an occasional beer or a glass of red wine.


Add Some Super Spices

“Spices and herbs with the highest antioxidant capacity. These ‘Super Spices’ are: cinnamon, oregano, red pepper, ginger, rosemary, thyme, and yellow curry. Did you know that just a half teaspoon of dried oregano packs about the same antioxidant power as a quarter cup of almonds or almost four cups of fresh spinach?” 7
Add plenty of onion, garlic and spices, to your salad or vegetables.  Teas, fruits and berries are also a good source of antioxidants.


Grilling Veggies is OK

When grilling vegetables these harmful compounds don’t seem to form.  But it is recommended to grill your vegetables first, before the meat.


Other Helpful Suggestions

Some suggest cooking your meats and fish on a cedar plank.  A cedar plank also adds an incredible flavour.
Clean your grill well before using.
When possible remove fat or skin before grilling.

Reduce the Cooking Time and Temperature

You can lightly BBQ your meat, then finish it in a stew or the oven at a lower temperature.    It will still retain some it’s smoky flavor.
Some people suggest pre-cooking your meat in a microwave oven for a minute or two before grilling.
Grill your meat away from a direct flame.  Just pile your coals on one side of the BBQ and place your meat on the other side.
If possible, cut your meat into smaller pieces before grilling, it will reduce the cooking time.
You can also use heavy gauge aluminum foil that into which you have punched a grid of small holes and place it onto the grill.  Cook your meat on this aluminum foil. This also works great for burgers.
Flip your meat frequently.


Avoid Burning Your Meat

Black or dark brown parts are considered to be the worst.


Natural Charcoal

Also, we only use natural hardwood charcoal for our BBQ, not gas or briquettes.  Charcoal is not only a healthy alternative, it also provides superior tasting meat, especially if you add some small, dry grape vine branches or cherry/apple tree wood chips to your charcoal.



What you grill is the most important, of course. 🙂  But I don’t need to tell you that, as an organic consumer, you already know this.



As my husband, who is a physiology graduate, always says “If you eat well 85 – 90% of the time you are OK to cheat once in a while. Your body is a intelligent organism capable of self regulation and healing, if you treat it well, it can and it will detoxify itself.”
By eating well he means organic food 90% of the time, plenty of raw fruits and vegetables and homemade juices, raw nuts and seeds every day, fermented foods like home made sauerkraut or homemade natto. (We have a fantastic source of natto, kosher organic and very mild tasting. Please email me if you want my contact.)
By cheating he means homemade organic pastries or cake, dark good quality chocolate and grass feed organic streak,  organic chicken barbecued on charcoal, and organic chicken or beef burgers on the grill… you get the picture.


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The Free Library: New Study Shows Marinating Meat May Help Prevent Cancer

Journal of Agricalture and Food Chemistry
PubMed .org
 The Free Library: Well-Done Research
 National Cancer Institute
The Free Library: Feeling the heat: are overcooked meat and poultry dangerous?
The Free Library: Study Finds Spice-Rich Marinades Can Reduce Harmful Compounds When Grilling.