Summer in Chicago means it’s time to pull off that grill tarp and whip up a batch of homemade burgers. But, before you grab that charcoal and lighter fluid, consider this: According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), cooking foods — specifically meats — at high temperatures on a grill can actually lead to the release of potentially harmful carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs). No need to step away from the grill though. We asked CTCA to share their top tips for healthy grilling that will reduce the release of these carcinogens and minimize your exposure. So follow these easy tips and grill on!
1. Use lean meat.
Meats with higher fat content tend to lead to a higher carcinogen concentration when cooked than leaner cuts of meat. This relates to a different type of carcinogen called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are released when fat drippings come into contact with fire. Ergo, less fat, less likelihood of dripping, less carcinogens released. In place of a traditionally rich ground beef burger, opt for lean ground lamb, which delivers substantial flavor and body but with much less fat.
2. Incorporate herbs and spices into your burger.
Meat mixtures containing fresh herbs and ground spices have been shown to help lower their overall carcinogen content. This is most likely due to their high concentration of antioxidants, which act as counter agents to HCAs.
3. Marinate, marinate, marinate.
Instead of going right from mixing your burgers to grilling, let the combined mixture marinate in the fridge for a few hours. This resting period allows the meat mixture to absorb the antioxidants present in the herbs and spices, helping to counter the release of HCAs.
4. Cover your grill with punctured tinned foil before cooking your burger.
This may seem like an odd step in the grilling process, but it can actually make a world of difference in terms of limiting carcinogens. The higher the heat on your grill, the higher likelihood of PAHs being released. By covering your grill grate in tinned foil, the heat becomes more diffused and limits the threat of splatter.
5. Avoid the char.
By keeping your grill at medium rather than high flame, you limit charring and splatter, which will further help keep PAHs at bay.
6. Cook to rare or medium rare.
Well-done meats have significantly higher levels of HCAs than medium-rare meats. Want to change it up from those same old beef burgers? Try lamb, which is best eaten rare or medium rare already so it’s a win-win!
Ready to put these tips into practice? I’ve created a flavorful and vibrant recipe for lamb burgers that incorporates many of CTCA’s tips for healthy grilling.