The Good and Bad of Grilling Meat (Watch Out for Charring)

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Photo by: Kesu01 ©Kesu01

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Summer is all about grilling, but many folks are concerned about firing up red meats such as beef and lamb. Here’s the low-down on grilling meat.

The Good

Grilling is a quick and easy way to whip up a weeknight dinner or entertain friends and family. There are many lean cuts of meat that are easy to grill, including lamb tenderloin, strip steak, flank and rib eye. Nutritionally, red meats like beef and lamb are packed with protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12.

Marinating meat before grilling helps tenderize and add flavor. Studies have also shown that marinades with little or no sugar also help protect meat from charring and have been shown to reduce heterocyclic aromatic amine (HAA) formation — compounds that have been linked to cancer.

The Bad

If you love the flavor of charred meat, you may want to reconsider. Charring causes the formation of HAAs, which has been linked to cancer in animal studies. Further, cooking meats over open flames where fat can drip and produce smoke — think grilling — can lead to the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs have also been linked to cancer formation.

Grill to perfection and greatly reduce HAAs and PAHs by monitoring your grill’s heat level and the doneness temperature of meat, poultry and fish when cooking.

Luckily, there are ways to minimize the production of HAAs and PAHs, including:

Don’t press burgers down onto grill grates, where juices can drip and flare.

Cooking meat over a medium flame (as opposed to a high flame) will help prevent the formation of HAAs while still allowing the internal cooking temperature to be reached.

Before cooking, remove meat from the marinade and shake off excess. Use a paper towel to pat dry and help promote even browning.

Avoid sugary glazes and sauces, which can burn easily. If you want to use them, baste the meat the last few minutes on the grill.

The Verdict

Grilling meat is a quick and delicious way to get a meal on the table, however, certain guidelines should be followed in order to help ensure maximum nutrition and minimum cancer risk.

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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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