Is It Unhealthy To Grill Foods Regularly?

Warm weather is all about barbecues, pool parties, and picnics. It’s also the perfect time to grill up a storm! Burgers and hot dogs usually steal the spotlight, but steaks and ribs get some love, too. It’s basically a summertime ritual. Yet, there are many rumors about the dangers of grilled food. This can be worrisome when you’re trying to eat well and take part in warm weather activities. So, before firing up the grill, here’s everything you need to know.

What Is Grilling, Exactly?

Grilling is not the same as barbecuing and blackening

Before diving into the science, it’s important to know definitions. Often, grilling gets mixed up with barbecuing and blackening, two different methods.

1. Grilling

Grilling is a high-heat cooking technique using an open flame. Typically, the flame is created with gas. Liquid propane can be used safely when the manufacturer’s directions are closely followed.1

2. Barbecuing

Barbecuing is often used interchangeably with grilling. However, barbecuing uses a charcoal

fire. A charcoal grill is not the same as a gas grill.2 In this article, grilling refers to barbecuing as well. The flames from gas and charcoal have similar effects.

3. Blackening

This technique uses a mix of spices with intense flavor. When cooked, it has a similar taste as barbecuing over an open fire. The spices even turn black or brown, just like charred foods do.3

Is Grilling Safe?

When cooked at high temperatures, meat forms heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals are carcinogenic, which means they alter the DNA in a way that increases cancer risk.

HCAs are created by sugars, creatine, and amino acids. Meanwhile, PAHs develop when meats are smoked. They also come from flames, which shoot up after the meat’s fat and juices drop into a fire. The PAHs then stick to the meat.4 While the flames look cool – it’s not good for you!

Factors That Affect
Grilling And Health

1. Type Of Meat

Grilling certain types of meat can be more harmful than others

Eating lots of red and processed meat is linked to chronic disease. Examples include breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.5 Premature death also makes the list.6 What more when they’re cooked at high temperatures?

Red meat includes meats like pork, beef, and lamb. Processed meats include hot dogs and ham. At lower levels, fish and poultry also release toxic chemicals when grilled or barbecued.

2. Temperature Of Cooking

Cooking at high temperatures can release carcinogens

So what counts as “high temperatures?” The minimum temperature needed to kill bacteria ranges from 140 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the

type of meat. Aim for these or slightly higher temperatures.7

If you’re pushing 300 degrees or more, be careful. The National Cancer Institute says anything above this limit is more likely to form carcinogens, especially if it’s red meat.8

3. How Well The Meat Is Done

The doneness of meat can affect your health

While it’s not safe to eat raw meat, longer cooking times equals more HCAs. This includes any kind of well-done meat, from chicken to pork. And according to a 2009 study in Nutrition and Cancer, frequently eating well-done meat might raise the risk of cancer. Connections have been found with cancer of the prostate, breast, colorectal, and pancreatic.9

For instance, eating 10 grams of well-done or

very-well-done red meat each day increases the colorectal cancer risk by 29 percent. On the other hand, the same amount of rare or medium red meat increases it by 10 percent.10

How To Make Blackening Spice

How To Make Blackening Spice

To skip on the HCAs and PAHs, make a blackening spice for your meat. Roast, broil, or sauté according to your preference.


  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Mix all the ingredients together.
  2. Store in an air-tight container in a cool, dark spot.

The Final Verdict

The Final Verdict

The food you grill

matters more than the fact that you’re grilling it in the first place. Note how the type of meat worsens the effect of the other two factors – temperature and doneness. This you means it’s possible to enjoy grilled food safely. To reduce HCA and PAH exposure, swap out burgers and hot dogs for salmon or turkey burgers.

Don’t forget that vegetables and fruits can be grilled, too. You can make veggie kebabs by cooking pepper, eggplant, and onions on skewers. For an extra dose of protein, add some tofu. Grilled fruits like peaches and pineapple taste delicious in salad and pasta dishes.