Happy Memorial Day

I love charcoal grilling.  I love the smell of the flame-roasted meats, poultry and vegetables.  I love the texture of grilled foods – and I used to think that the melting away of all that fat off the meat was a healthier way of cooking.  Unfortunately for all of us, there have been countless studies, articles and publicity around the dangers of charcoal grilling – even grilling fruits and vegetables.

After doing research, I have uncovered several ways that we can protect ourselves from the harmful chemical reactions that happen during grilling.

According to the National Cancer Institute, charring meat of any kind at high temperatures – and this includes poultry and fish – creates two compounds:  heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, both of which can alter cellular DNA and convert a normal cell to a cancerous one.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when amino acids, sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when fat and juices from the meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames.  These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. 

Interestingly, those of us that like our meats juicy rare, have a bit of an advantage.  It seems that the longer and hotter you cook your meats, and the more well done they are cooked, the higher the concentrations of HCAs.


  1. Use indirect cooking method on the grill, meaning only light one side of the grill and place your meat on the opposite side.  The meat will still get cooked but will not experience the deep charring as from direct grilling.
  2. You might consider pre-cooking your food for a few minutes before putting on the grill. This will reduce the time needed to cook your food on the grill
  3. Flip your food often– this will reduce the surface time directly on the grill
  4. Marinate all meats and vegetables in a liquid using thyme, rosemary, garlic, and oregano which are powerful HCA inhibitors for at least one hour before grilling.  It will protect your item from the high heat as well as provide antioxidants for your health
  5. Think about grilling fruits and vegetables.  These items are high in antioxidants and fiber and actually protect against cancer

I’ve included a great marinade to tempt your palate and protect your health.

Here’s to a great Memorial Day and a healthy celebration.

Healthful Marinade for meats, fruits, and vegetables

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leave or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary