It’s beginning to feel like summer at my house. Summer means outdoors, both for eating and cooking. Up until recently, we had a small little camping grill we used. It worked well, although did have severe capacity limitations. My husband recently purchased a Traeger pellet grill to upgrade our outdoor cooking, and boy is it an upgrade. It can smoke, grill, bake, and the list seems to go on. We are loving it.
However, the risk of cancer from eating “grilled” meats has been in the news in recent years. I wondered if the same risks were true for smoked meats, as well as if it depended on the heat source of your grill (charcoal vs. gas vs. wood). So I did some research for all of us.
The carcinogenic compounds formed when grilling meats are heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs are formed when you cook meat at very high temperatures, like you can get on a gas or charcoal grill or even a very hot grill pan or broiler. PAHs are formed in the flames that flare up when fat from you meat drips into your flame and then chars the food. Some studies suggest PAHs are also formed when you smoke meats.
I couldn’t find any definitive evidence that any particular heat source causes more or less of these substances to be formed. I think it would come down to temperature and control of the flame. I do know that in our Traeger, there is a drip pan that prevents fat from getting to the flame and stops flare ups. It also cannot go above a temperature of about 500. That would make me guess that a grill like that MIGHT form less PAHs and HCAs, but I can’t be sure. And food can still become “charred” on the grill, just like in your oven when things burn. (As is seen in my kebabs below, recipe to follow next week).
After all my research, I actually came to the same conclusions I had before. Grilling or smoking is a great way to cook meat without adding fat while still retaining/adding flavor. However, you want to prevent lots of “char” or burn marks on your meat. And, as always, eat these foods in moderation, like everything else.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the risk of cancer from eating grilled or smoked meats in the comments. Happy summer!