Registered Dietitian, Board Certified in Sports Nutrition, Food Scientist

Healthy Grilling

It’s that time of year and if you are like me you love breaking out the grill for another season of all things BBQ. However we all must take caution as there are cancer causing compounds called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which form in meat, including beef, pork, fish and poultry when cooked at high temperatures. But don’t fret as there are ways to limit exposure. Below are a few tips to keep in mind, as well as a few recipes for marinades which contain ingredients that help to prevent formation of these harmful compounds.  

  • Choose lean cuts of meat. Look for the words “loin” or round” as well as 93% or higher lean (7% or lower fat). Leaner cuts of meat result in less fat dripping off of the meat. This will reduce flare ups of the fire preventing less charring and thus less compounds formed.
  • Pre-cooking such as parboiling chicken or using a microwave oven to cook meat prior to cooking on the grill can reduce formation of these compounds by limiting the time on the grill.
  • Remove charred portions of the meat or in others words don’t eat the burnt meat as this is where you find the highest concentration of these compounds.
  • Use a cedar plank to place on the grill. Make sure you soak the plank for 1-2 hours before grilling. Try using water or even beer which can bring out more flavor. Heat plank on the grill and turn only once to ensure the plank is lightly roasted. Once the plank is roasted, place meat on the plank and close the lid of grill. Typically you do not need to turn the meat but keep in mind the meat may take up to 50% longer to cook.
  • Grilling fruits and vegetables will not produce these harmful compounds so make sure you add these to the grill.
  • Research indicates that marinades and dry rubs that contain the ingredients onions, garlic, citrus juices, thyme, rosemary, and even beer can assist in significantly reducing the formation of these harmful compounds. Using beer, vinegar and citrus juices can also tenderize the meat. Wow! Add some flavor and you not only thrill your taste buds, but do your body some good. Below are a couple of recipes you can make with ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen. Add these marinades to meat approximately 20 minutes up to one hour prior to grilling. Mix marinades in a bowl and place in plastic bag with the selected meat. Add up to 32 ounces of meat. Happy Grilling!


Honey Mustard Marinade

  • 2 Tbsp mustard
  • 2 Tbsp honey (can also you maple syrup)
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary
  • Zest of lemon or 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Dash of salt and pepper

All Things Spice

  • 2 Tbsp vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp mustard
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • ¼ cup minced onion

Beer and Honey

  • ¼ cup beer (flavored ales, such as honey nut or nut brown ale can add additional flavor)
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp garlic
  • Dash of salt and pepper