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Firing Up the Grill? Watch Out for These Toxins

Firing Up the Grill? Watch Out for These Toxins

A good grilling might elicit a confession from a bad guy at the hands of Gibbs and his crew on "NCIS," but when you put a healthy, skinless chicken breast on the flame there's potential for bad chemistry.

Cooking meat, as well as poultry, fish, and even vegetables, over charcoal or any source of high heat produces two toxins: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs)—both known carcinogens. But you don't have to give up the joys of grilling. You can fire up the barbecue, enjoy great flavors, and eliminate the toxins with these simple techniques:

  1. Stop the fat-dripping, PAH-producing cycle. When meat and other foods drip their juices on flames or embers, they cause flare-ups that deposit PHAs on the underside of your food. Minimize that nasty additive by placing your food on aluminum foil (you can poke holes or cut slits in it) on top of the grill's grate.
  2. Microwave your fish or poultry (meat, too, but we avoid all red meat to help us stay younger) for 1½ to 2 minutes before putting it on the grill. This eliminates 90% of HCAs. Your food will spend less time on the grill, but you'll still enjoy great barbecue flavor.
  3. Always marinate. Make sure you use fresh rosemary (a real HCA killer) and lemon juice, with a base of balsamic vinegar. Sounds good, right?
  4. Make sure there's a whole lotta broccoli goin' on. Broccoli (dish it up on the side) has been shown to break down HCAs—even the ones that get through the marinade and end up on the food.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

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