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Safety tips for when you grill

These days, everything causes cancer, it seems — grilling is no different. Now, we're not suggesting you never grill, but there are a few steps to take to make it safer.

Cancer Risk No. 1: HCAs

There are two possible links to cancer when grilling. The first is heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, which are formed when amino acids (the building block of proteins) and creatine (a compound naturally found in the muscles of meat) react at high cooking temperatures. Now, grilling isn't the only way to get HCAs; broiling and frying can do it, too.

Cancer Risk No. 2: PAHs

The other cancer-causing substance is polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), which forms when fat from grilled food drips on hot coals or ceramic bricks and produces smoke. The chemical travels in the smoke. The higher the heat, the more PAH is formed. Smoking meats can also form higher PAH levels.

Decreasing the Chances

  • Trim fat off meats and poultry to reduce the drippings or opt for leaner cuts. Catch drippings in foil or a pan to decrease extra smoke.
  • Cook at lower temperatures (around 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit) and make sure the flames do not come into direct contact with your food.
  • Don't overcook food — HCAs and PAHs accumulate more in the blackened part of the food. Yes, char marks are part of grilling's beauty, but cut burned sections off.
  • Marinate meats, poultry and fish before grilling. This reduces the amount of HCAs that can form during cooking. Even marinating for as little as 10 minutes helps. Before cooking, remove the food from the marinade and drain for a minute to prevent flare-ups.
  • Try certain marinade ingredients. These include vinegar, citrus juice and vegetable oil. Herbs like basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage add flavor and are linked to reduced HCA formation.
  • Turn your food often. According to a recent study, burgers cooked at lower temps but turned every minute can produce 75 percent to 95 percent fewer cancer-causing agents than those turned every five minutes or so.