Summer is here (at least in Arizona), and I’m a big fan of grilled foods. I have both a gas grill and a charcoal Weber, and to me, foods just taste better when grilled. Plus, here in the desert, cooking indoors when it’s 110 degrees outside makes the kitchen pretty warm. I love vegetables on the grill-we have a garden with bell peppers, zucchini and yellow summer squash, eggplant, garlic, tomatoes, dukes, and lots of greens. I grill all of them except the greens. I also eat meats and fish, especially grilled. I used to love getting the outside of red meats and sausages a little browned or charred, but It’s time to change that thinking. Charring, grilling, pan-fried, and smoked meats produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are drawing increased concern over their toxic effects on health. PAHs are formed when the juices and fats from grilled meats drip onto the fire or heat source, causing flare-ups. The flames produce PAHs, which then adhere to the surface of the meats. High-temperature pan-frying can also cause formation of PAHs. How are PAHs harmful? According to the National Research Council’s report Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer, studies show that lab animals develop tumors in the gastrointestinal tract when they are exposed to PAHs in food. Population studies in humans has also shown an association with cancer and PAHs. How can you cook your meat safely? One of my favorite things to do is to marinate the meats at least 30 minutes before cooking. I use either a citrus-type marinade (orange, grapefruit, or lemon juice), wine, or a type of vinegar-based sauce. I also keep the meats and veges at least 6 inches from the heat source, and I don’t overcook them. Flip burgers, chicken, fish, or steaks every minute or so, and turn sausages even more frequently. I keep a small bottle of water next to my grill to quickly dampen any flames.

Happy and safe grilling!

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.