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The Do’s and Don’ts for Grilling this Summer

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

July 5, 2022

Summer has arrived, and many Americans are dusting off their grills and enjoying some backyard grilling time. Grilling has been linked to cancer for years, but you’ll find some tips in this advisory on how to get the most out of your grill while lowering your cancer risk.

Why does grilling raise cancer concerns?

Grilling is linked to the creation of two cancer-causing chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCA)s, according to several studies. These carcinogens can cause DNA alterations which may lead to cancer.

When amino acids, sugars, and creatine, (found in white meats, red meats, and processed meats) are exposed to high temperatures, HCAs develop. On the other hand, PAH’s are formed when fat and fluids from meat are cooked directly over a heated surface or open fire, creating flames and smoke. The PAHs are trapped in the smoke and attach to the surface of the meat. Other high-temperature cooking methods, such as smoking, also contribute to the creation of PAHs. To prevent the development of these cancer-causing chemicals, cook meats (red or white) at low temperatures.

The good news is that not all grilled foods contain cancer-causing chemicals. HCAs and PAHs are not formed when fruits and vegetables are grilled.

5 grilling tips to minimize cancer-causing chemicals during the grilling process

  1. Avoid cooking meat directly over an open flame, reduce the heat of metal surfaces, flip your meat often, and avoid cooking for too long (especially at high temperatures).
  2. Cook meat in a microwave oven before finishing it on the grill to decrease exposure to high temperatures and shorten cooking time.
  3. Choose lean cuts with minimal fat drippings or trim fat off to limit flare-ups and charring, remove charred sections of meat, and avoid gravy prepared from meat drippings.
  4. To reduce the development of HCAs, marinate your meats.
  5. Grill fruits and vegetables like pineapple, as well as vegetable kababs and other plant-based options.


A word of caution when it comes to red and processed meats.

For decades, studies have linked processed meat (also known as deli meat or cold cuts) and red meat consumption to an increased risk of several cancers such as prostate, esophageal, colorectal, liver, lung, and ER+/PR+ breast cancer among premenopausal women. As a result, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting weekly red meat intake to 12–18 oz. and processed meat intake to 50 grams (1.7 oz.).

Fun facts

  • After World War II, backyard grilling became extremely popular during the summertime as the middle class began to move to the suburbs.
  • HCAs can be found in well-done, grilled, or barbecued chicken and steak.

3 key takeaways

  1. When cooking any form of meat, use low-heat cooking methods. Follow the safe cooking procedures outlined above when grilling foods.
  2. Limit your weekly red meat consumption to less than 18 oz. and processed meat consumption to less than 50 g.
  3. Add color, flavor, and anticancer compounds to your backyard grilling events by grilling fruits and vegetables. Click here for an extensive list of foods with anticancer properties.

The recipe of the week comes from Foodie Crush

Grilled Vegetables


2 Portobello mushrooms

1 eggplant

1 zucchini

1 yellow squash

1 onion

1 bunch of thick asparagus

1 red bell pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Prepare the grill with clean grates and preheat to medium heat, 350°F to 450°F.
  2. Trim the ends of the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and onion and cut into 1/3″ to 1/2″ slices. Seed the red bell pepper and cut into quarters. Trim the ends of the asparagus.
  3. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Grill the vegetables with the lid closed until tender and lightly charred all over, about 8 to 10 minutes for the bell peppers, onion, and mushroom; 5-7 minutes for the yellow squash, zucchini, and eggplant and asparagus.
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature.

For More Diet Resources by ACC:

Reducing your Breast Cancer Risk with a Healthy Diet

Beef vs. Vegetarian Burgers

Cancer-Fighting Foods.. A.K.A G-BOMBS

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