How to Make Grilling Safer
In addition, precooking food slightly before grilling will help cut down on PAHs. Meyers recommends placing meat in the microwave and zapping it for between 60 seconds (for leaner cuts) and 90 seconds (for thicker, fattier pieces). This reduces the amount of time the food is on the grill and allows some of the juices to drain beforehand.
Certain recipes can make grilling safer as well, according to Meyers. Marinades made with vinegar or lemon act as an "invisible shield" that changes the acidity of the meat and prevents PAHs from sticking, she says. (On the other hand, sugary marinades such as barbecue sauce that encourage charring should be used only during the last one to two minutes on the grill.)
And whenever possible, Meyers recommends grilling vegetables or fruits instead of meat.
The carcinogens in charred meat aren't the only health concern associated with barbecues. Though for many people the smell of a juicy steak wafting from the grill is synonymous with the onset of summer, the smoke that carries the aroma is less desirable.
A 2003 report from researchers at Rice University, in Houston, found that grilling creates "ambient fine particulate matter"-air pollution, in other words. Although backyard barbecues add far less pollution to the atmosphere than cars and factories, this particulate matter can still cause problems. In concentrated amounts, the smoke from a grill can trigger respiratory trouble in people with lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
"Anyone who is sensitive to smoke should avoid exposure to a grill-or fire, or trucks," says Paul Billings, the vice president of advocacy at the American Lung Association. "They should protect themselves by limiting their exposure to whatever the source is that irritates their lungs."
Billings recommends cooking over natural gas or propane grills to reduce the pollution emitted. If you own a charcoal grill, using a chimney starter instead of lighter fluid will also keep you from inhaling harmful chemicals, he says.
Buying lean cuts of meat, trimming off most of the fat, and wrapping foods like fish in a foil packet will all help cut down on smoke by reducing the amount of juices that drip onto the grill.
Although at-home chefs should always try to grill as safely as possible, Meyers emphasizes that you shouldn't let the health risks of barbecuing spoil your appetite.
"Keep the risk in perspective," she says. "Grilled foods are not the greatest cancer risk-not wearing sunscreen while at the grill is a bigger deal. If you like to grill, put meat on the grill and use the safety tips."