Cancer Healthy Living

A healthier way to grill – and cut your cancer risk, too

While there’s nothing like that distinctive smoky taste from your backyard barbecue, scientists have raised concerns about grilled meats due to the formation of certain chemicals during grilling, including heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can increase cancer risk.

What to do? Don’t banish the barbecue — you can have your meat and grill it too! Sarah Deen, a registered dietitian at the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University, offers these tips to reduce your risk:

  • Precook meats in the oven or microwave. Microwaving meat for two minutes before grilling reduces HCA content by 90 percent. Pouring off the liquid that forms during microwaving further decreases HCAs.
  • Marinate meat before grilling. A marinade can reduce HCAs by as much as 99 percent. Experts suspect that typical marinade ingredients of olive oil, vinegar, citrus juice, herbs and spices may help prevent HCA formation or act as a barrier.
  • Create a barrier between the heat source and your food. Line the grill with aluminum foil, poking small holes in the foil so some fat can drain away. Or increase the space between the charcoal and food to minimize charring.
  • Trim away. Cut away visible fat and chicken’s skin to reduce the amount of fat dripping into the flames. Remove any burnt or charred portions before eating.
  • Shorten grill time. Use a thermometer and choose thinner, leaner cuts of meat.
  • Eat less meat. Tofu or veggie burgers are a healthier choice and produce few, if any, HCAs or PAHs.
  • Grill more vegetables or fruits. These foods don’t produce HCAs. Try grilled portobello mushrooms, onions, green and red bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, potatoes, papaya, pineapple and mango. Alternate small pieces of meat with vegetables or fruit on skewers to maximize flavor and minimize harmful chemicals.

What’s Your Cancer Risk?

If you’re concerned about your risk of developing certain cancers, the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University can help. Visit, search for Cancer Risk and choose any of several quizzes available to assess your risk. Still concerned? Call our Cancer Information hotline at 888-365-0747.

About the author

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.