Can Charcoal Grilling Negatively Affect Your Health?


Whose excited about grilling this summer? Family BBQ's and picnics bring everyone together with good laughs, and great food. Pictured here with me is my beautiful Aunt Basia. This picture was taken last year on my birthday. My Uncle Ray grilled up a bunch of delicious vegetables such as; zucchini, carrots, potatoes and onions! He uses natural wood charcoal in his grill which is said to be a much healthier option to the charcoal briquettes. 

However, Increases in research have been suggesting that cooking over a flame is linked to cancer. Combusting wood, gas, or charcoal emits chemicals known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hyrdocarbons, abbreviated as PAHs. Exposure to PAHs is known to cause skin, liver, stomach and several other types of cancer. These cancers were present in lab animals, but does it affect humans?

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form in protein dense foods when cooked at a high heat. PAHs form when the fat from the meat drips and burns onto the grill, creating smoke. When the smoke circulates around your meat, the compounds get deposited on whatever is on the grill, and then you consume it.

For now, there is not enough research evidence for humans to deem grilling as dangerous. Cavemen that lived thousands of years ago cooked meat over flames, so why can it be more dangerous now with increasing, safer, technology? Today, food, especially meat, is packaged, prepared and preserved differently. A while back I discussed the link between cold cuts and cancer. A lot of it comes from the chemicals they use to preserve the meats. In addition to packaging and preparation changing, the way charcoal is made is even different from the past.

Charcoal grills are worse for the environment than propane grills. In 2009, the carbon footprint for a charcoal grill was three times larger than the carbon footprint of a gas grill. Charcoal is a smoky, wasteful process, and is compared to extracting gas from the ground, as far as CO2 goes at least. Charcoal grilling can also be dangerous if not properly done. Using too much lighter fluid, or other accelerants like gasoline to ignite the charcoal can result in serious burns. Using a charcoal grill in an enclosed space can result in carbon monoxide poisoning that can lead to death. It is recommended that you cut meats and vegetables into smaller bits so that they can cook quicker, which can help reduce the amount of HCAs created in food. Marinating meat before grilling can potentially reduce cancer-causing HCAs by up to 90%.