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The question of is charcoal grilled food healthy has posed several challenges to many home cooks, especially those of us who try to remain healthy and live a longer life. Studies showed that charcoal-grilled food is not as healthy as we want it to be. Keep reading to find out why charcoal-grilled food is dangerous to you and what you can do to have healthier meals.

A Guide To Is Charcoal Grilled Food Healthy

Charcoal and Cancer Risks

The American Cancer Society discusses the fact that, when we grill our meat, two potentially carcinogenic compounds are created. The first is PAH, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. PAHs are created when the meat on your grill drips fat on the burning charcoal. The smoke takes this fat back onto your food or the PAHs form on your meat as it gets charred.

HCAs, the second type of potentially carcinogenic compound, is also known as heterocyclic amines. This compound forms when the temperature is very high and you cook the meat for a long time. HCAs also form when you pan-cook your food, including fish, beef, fowl, and even pork. The National Cancer Institute managed to find 17 HCAs when muscle meat is cooked.

A large body of research has shown that HCAs increase the risk of cancer in humans, especially pancreatic, colorectal, and breast cancers. This risk increased with a high intake of well-done meats, either grilled or fried.

Charcoal And Pollution

Another health risk related to charcoal grilling is indirectly affecting us and other loved ones. Air pollution is a side effect of charcoal grilling. More specifically, studies showed that microscopic-sized pieces of polyunsaturated fatty acids are released into the atmosphere when the meat is grilled, leading to increased pollution.

At this point, however, it is worthwhile to highlight that air pollution generated by charcoal grilling is far less than the pollution generated by industries and vehicles. People who use briquettes are not far ahead either, although it is a great use of sawdust.

If you use this type of fuel, make sure your brand does not include any limestone, sodium nitrate, borax, coal dust, or starch. Lump charcoal, on a similar note, leads to deforestation and the multiplication of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Is Charcoal Grilled Food Healthy

Benefits vs. Disadvantages

Does this mean that charcoal-grilled food is not healthy? The truth is, almost as always, somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, grilling food is healthier than other methods, such as frying, but only when you do so properly. The main reason is that the grilled food will have significantly less fat content than the food you cook in a pan, where the fat does not drip and remains with your food, as in frying.

This being said, it is important to acknowledge that scientific opinion on how HCAs affect humans is still under investigation. The body of research agrees that these compounds caused cancer in lab animals. However, there is not enough evidence to suggest that they have exactly the same effect on humans.

Another key issue is that whether you grill, broil, bake, fry or roast your food, low levels of HCAs will still be present on your food, so this problem is not limited to charcoal grilling.

You can benefit from grilled food if you follow some basic guidelines. For instance, the University of Virginia suggests cutting down on the number of harmful compounds by grilling small cuts of meat and vegetables. This is because they will cook quicker, so the HCAs are limited.

Another trick is to marinate your food before grilling it. Apart from making it tender, juicy, and more delicious, marinated meat has 90% fewer HCAs. Lastly, it would be wise to trim away the excess fat on your meat cuts, so they do not burn and char.

How to Grill Healthier

If you are a char-lover and you do not see yourself turning towards healthier ways of cooking your meal, you could also follow these tips to help you enjoy better meals.

First of all, while most people associate grilling with hefty pieces of meats, grilling can also use more fruits and veggies. You can grill fruits and vegetables by themselves or pair them with fish or meat.

The medical bodies are relentless in explaining how most people do not have a sufficient intake of fruits and vegetables. This might be an appealing method of increasing the number of vegetables and fruits and keep your grilling healthier. Apart from a delicious meal, veggies and fruits are primarily associated with decreased risk of many types of cancer, heart diseases, obesity, and strokes.

The best part of grilling fruits and veggies is that HCAs and PAHs do not form on these foods. If you want to pair them with grilled meat, choosing fruits and veggies rich in antioxidants might help you balance out your meal.

Are you still lacking ideas? Here are some delicious examples: onions, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, pineapple, pear, apple, mango, bell peppers – the options are endless.

Furthermore, another trick to make your grilling experience healthier is to cut down on the grill time. As mentioned above, the harmful compounds form when the temperature is very high, and you cook the meat for a longer time. To decrease the grilling time, you can keep your meat cuts small and even pre-cook the food in a microwave or oven, then finish them off on the grill.


Some studies also showed that flipping the meat frequently helps to avoid HCA formation on your food. Make sure you do not pierce the food, though – choose spatulas or tongs, so you do not release the juices that will drip onto the charcoal.

Lastly, we suggest skewering the meat for a fun way of cutting down the cooking time. It is even better to combine meats, such as chicken, seafood, chicken with cherry tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, or any other veggies you enjoy on the grill.

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