As hot weather quickly approaches, grilling remains one of the best activities outdoors with your family and friends. The majority of us are absolutely hooked on the specific, delicious flavors that grilling offers us, but the same taste also raises awareness. Both consumers and the scientific universe are concerned with the health issues that come with grilling. Let’s dive into this topic to find out what the studies say and whether charcoal or gas grilling is better for our health.
What are the Health Issues Associated With Grilling?
First of all, in order to determine whether charcoal or gas is better, we need to understand the health risks involved with grilling – any type of grilling. We all love to hear the sizzling of sausages or hamburgers on the grill, the smoky taste, or the mouthwatering smell of grilling.
Despite this, medical and research bodies investigated the health risks of grilling and raised several questions. The main problem is that cooking at a high temperature forms toxic compounds that embrace our delicious grilled meats.
When we place muscle meat, such as pork chops or steaks on the grill, two types of harmful chemicals form: PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and HCAs, or heterocyclic amines.
The PAHs can be found in the smoke that results when fat drips onto the flame. This smoke then adheres to our meat cuts, surrounding it with PAHs. HCAs, on the other hand, are a result of the substances of the meat (such as amino acids, for instance) reacting with the heat. Both these compounds are believed to be able to impact human DNA, as the National Cancer Institute claims.
Consuming meat with the two compounds above is further believed to increase your risk of cancer. Such tests were performed on laboratory animals and showed that when rodents had a diet rich in HCAs, they developed prostate, colon, breast, and other cancer types. PAHs also resulted in leukemia, gastrointestinal tumors, and others.
It is worthwhile to point out that the laboratory animals were exposed to levels of PAHs and HCAs that are thousands of times more compared to what a grill lover would typically consume. However, researchers believe it is still important to limit our exposure as much as possible.
Charcoal Grill Health Issues
Charcoal grill lovers are hooked on the rich, smoky taste with a unique flavor that is absolutely unmatchable. Charcoal grills also have another benefit that makes them the winner in the debate of gas vs. charcoal grills: They are cost-efficient.
Some people use petroleum-based fluids to light up their charcoal grills. This brings another concern to the surface – this lighter fluid creates VOCs or volatile organic compounds. This means that petroleum residue sticks to your food, but also goes into your lungs.
Therefore, it is wiser to use an alternative to the petroleum-based lighter fluid, such as an electric coal starter. Despite this, we still have one issue: PAHs. The toxic compound gets to your meat when the fat drips onto the coals and rises back as PAHs onto your meat.
To reduce this, you could try to marinate your food beforehand, as this has been proven to reduce the amount of PAHs by 90%. As for HCAs, since high heat temperatures produce them, make sure to keep your meat cuts as small as possible, so they cook quicker.
Gas Grill Health Issues
The second type of grills is a popular choice due to its convenience – all you need to do is turn a handle and press a button. You can precisely control the heat, unlike charcoal grills, and they have a larger cooking space.
Because there is no charcoal, gas grills do not release any PAHs since the fat does not drip into the flames. However, the dangers of high temperatures remain for the presence of HCAs. Considering that you can control the heat to a closer degree with gas grills, you can reduce the amount of HCAs produced by choosing lower temperatures.
Thus, the health advantages of the gas grill are double. First of all, there are no PAHs, and, secondly, you can also reduce the amount of HCAs by controlling the temperature.
Charcoal vs. Gas Grill - Conclusion
All in all, it is clear that we have two toxic compounds. The PAHs are the by-product of fat dripping onto the flames, creating toxins that rise back onto your meat with the smoke. Gas grills have this health issue that does not exist in gas-grilled food since they do not use open flames.
Another toxic compound is the HCA, which can be found in any type of cooking, including broiling, frying, roasting, and others, as long as the cooking is over high temperature. This remains a threat in gas grills, but they also allow temperature control so that you can minimize the amount of HCAs.
What is the best approach? If you are a grill lover, it’s best to choose a gas grill for your health and try not to cook your foods at high temperatures. The gas grill is undoubtedly a healthier alternative.
On the other hand, if you cannot see yourself without the smoky taste of charcoal grilling, it is best to keep this activity at a minimum. For moderate grilling, they might be okay, as long as you also pair it with other actions to decrease the number of PAHs; this can include marinating your meat beforehand and trimming away the fat that could melt and drip into the flames.
Gas grills pose fewer health issues. They are more convenient, and they can come with some useful high-tech features, as well, such as temperature control and monitoring. This will help you keep an eye on any harmful high heat levels that could increase the health risks of grilling your food.