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By Laurene Williams, HoneyColony Original

But first, let’s take a look at the really crappy side, so we can appreciate some of the sacrifices we should make at the cookout.

In the run-up to the Fourth of July, blog posts abound about the irresistible taste of barbecue chicken and sausage, shellacked in molasses and rum, slathered in juicy vinegar and mustard-based sauces loaded with cane sugar and corn syrup. Bobby Flay of Bobby Flay’s Barbecue Addiction doesn’t mince words. He’s serenaded by the media for preparing foods that make us delirious. Meanwhile, the rest of us, minus the culinary wizardry, just crank up the grill and throw down. And so it begins – intoxicating clouds of charred slabs of meat wafting through suburbia. The Heart Attack Party is on with balloons, firecrackers and smiles. It’s as if for three straight days, at a minimum, we should blithely forget some incredibly inconvenient and annoying facts about how our bodies metabolize loads of garnished animal fat cells that have either bubbled up or turned black.


There are semantics to defend and techniques to parse when describing the many ways you can tune your grill and char your goods. But when it all goes down the same hole, the body doesn’t care if it was smoked, charred, grilled or barbecued. What matters is the heat factor. As soon as meat gets exposed to temperatures at or above 300° F, it migrates to the other side, from not fantastic to ridiculously unhealthy.

Naturally occurring creatine, the amazing amino acid found abundantly in red meats and a slew of bottled supplements for muscle builders, induces rapid energy in its good state but produces the chemical heterocyclic amines (HCA) in its bad state, when meat under fire reaches the 300° F threshold.

HCA, along with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), yet another chemical that forms from flames, fat and juicy drippings, have been the subject of studies for decades. They have both been proven to change DNA, are known carcinogens in animals and have cancer-causing properties. In other words, they likely increase our risk of cancer.

Some of the highest concentrations of HCA are found in bbq chicken and steak. While the correlation between red meat consumption and heart disease has been well supported, the correlation between barbecuing and cancer is difficult to qualify because of the unusually high doses of HCAs and PAHs fed to laboratory rodents during experiments. But epidemiologic studies support what so many have suspected: high-temp grilling and barbecuing are correlated with increased risks of prostrate, colorectal and pancreatic cancer. A study published in December of 2012 by the British Journal of Cancer found that of the 17,000 participants surveyed, those who consumed the greatest amounts of well-done and grilled meats had a 56 to 59 percent higher rate of cancer than their peers.

As for chicken lovers, a 2006 Harvard study of 135,000 people found that the consumption of five or more servings per week of grilled skinless chicken indicated a 52 percent higher risk of developing bladder cancer.

If grilling is your flavor, you can reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs by cooking smaller pieces at lower temperatures, avoiding open flames, reducing cooking times, flipping frequently, discarding meat drippings, and ditching the charred parts of a grilled meal. Marinating, which some presume forms a protective coat to retard the outbreak of HCAs and PAHs, has been widely debated due to conflicting reports. But a 2010 study, published by The Journal of Food Science, paired grilled burgers with specific healthy foods and, miraculously, confirmed a ray of hope. According to the study, antioxidants in rosemary can reduce the production of HCA by as much as 90 percent. In similar studies, honey, garlic, tart cherries, and onions were also found to block party pooping carcinogens.

The George Foreman Grill should hardly be a regular at the dinner table. Whenever it does appear, get creative. Concoct the most outrageous sauce with the anti-carcinogenic arsenal listed above – and skip the artery-clogging, cancer-causing gravy made from meat juices. If you truly can’t resist the smoky aroma of cooked meats that continues to captivate nostrils around the globe, gather all the healthy ingredients and make it the most succulent, sweetly drizzled bbq chicken or steak of your barbecuing career.

Or grill organic produce.

Photo by John Adkins/Flickr.

1 thought on “The Good Side Of Grilling”

  1. I always want to see the qualification that it’s been proven standard CAFO red meat consumption correlates to a higher incidence of heart disease. I’d like them to run these studies again using properly raised red meat. Other than that I love the article – particularly because I’ve never liked charred barbeque meat of any type!

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