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Grilling on a charcoal grill: risks and benefits


Summer is time for outdoor barbecues, which are most often done with charcoal grills.

Very popular tools, They partly allow you to cook meat and other foods in a healthier way but they also involve some risks which is good to know, in order to limit them as much as possible and avoid bad surprises.

Charcoal Grill Risks

Inhalation of harmful fumes and carbon monoxide

The charcoal grill emits carbon monoxide, which can be life-threatening. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a greater risk if you use a charcoal grill indoors, so it's best to never cook with it indoors.

While the amount of carbon monoxide emitted isn't as much of a concern when grilling outdoors, the charcoal grill releases other volatile organic compounds through smoking which can be harmful to health.

Long-term exposure to these fumes can in fact lead to a variety of respiratory diseases and increase the risk of cancer. Toxins from smoking can also enter the body through the skin.

Increased risk of cancer

During cooking, Foods in contact with grill surfaces at high temperatures form heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

These substances are mutagenic, which means they cause changes in DNA which can increase the risk of cancerespecially in the colon and stomach.

HCA and PAH are more likely to form in meats cooked at higher temperatures, cooked for longer periods of time, or exposed to a lot of smoke.

Fires and injuries

Another risk to consider when grilling with charcoal is that of get burns or injuries from fire or hot coals. To avoid them as much as possible, the advice is to always keep your hair tied up, do not wear flammable clothes and pay attention to every movement, especially of children, who must not be allowed to approach the grill. To prevent the fumes from irritating your eyes, you can also wear protective glasses.

Finally, to prevent something from catching fire, move any flammable object away from the grill.

Benefits of Charcoal Grill

  • The flavor of the meat improves
  • Fats are reduced

When you cook food over charcoal, it takes on that rich, smoky flavor that many people love.

Also, grilling reduces the amount of saturated fats and calories that are ingested, since the fat from the meat drips onto the charcoal during cooking.

How to reduce your cancer risk

  • Use a clean grill
  • Choose lean cuts of meat, fish and vegetables
  • Marinate the meat

Use a clean grill

Making sure your grill is clean is crucial prevent the charred food on it from continuing to smoke even after a second useincreasing carcinogens.

Cooking with a small flame to reduce the cooking temperature and avoid overcooking meat can also help reduce carcinogens.

Choose lean cuts of meat, fish and vegetables

Opt for leaner cuts of meat prevents too much grease from dripping onto the charcoalcausing extra smoke.

However, if the ones chosen are rather fat, you can remove the fat before cooking them.

According to a study published in May 2016 in Food Chemistry, removing fat before cooking reduces the amount of four different PAHs by 48 to 89 percent, and removing smoke ranges from 41 to 74 percent. The same study also found that grilling with stable combustion, or stable heat, reduces fumes.

However, it is even healthier replace meat with fish and seafood, vegetables, tofu and veggie burgers.

Smaller cuts of meat and fish also cook faster, lowering HCA levels and reducing smoking.

To avoid too much smoke you can also wait until the charcoal is greyish/white before starting cooking.

Marinate the meat

Marinate the meat with oil before grilling or seasoning it with fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme and oregano on both sides can reduce the amount of HCA in food, thanks to their antioxidant effect.

Difference with the gas grill

The gas grill creates less smokereducing the amount of PAH that forms.

The charcoal grill also emits more carbon monoxide and uses higher cooking temperatures than the gas grill and this increases the formation of HCA.

With the gas grill you can control the temperature, keeping it lower, so as to more easily prevent the meat from charring and creating carcinogenic agents. Furthermore, a lower heat significantly reduces smoke.

Finally, gas grills are better for the environment and produce 1/3 of the carbon footprint of charcoal grills, according to a study published in November 2009 in Environmental.

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