When summer rolls around, even those who are not fond of cooking will venture into their backyards to cook up a storm. One of the most popular activities during the summer months is barbecuing; especially for July 4th. Besides the backyard, many people like to go to the beach, the park, and even camp sites to barbecue. It is perfect for spending time with family and friends; taking turns at the grill, eating outside, and sipping a cold drink.

            The word barbecue originated from the Arawakan Indians in the seventeenth century from the West Indian island of Hispaniola. It was a method of setting up wooden sticks over a fire to dry meat. The origins of American barbecue were first recorded in 1697. Modern day barbecuing came from the South, where people make tough cuts of meat tender by slow-roasting over a fire pit. The definitive smoky BBQ taste is caused by the myoglobin in the meat reacting with the carbon monoxide from the smoke.

            Besides all the yummy factors associated with barbecuing, everyone should be aware of the health risks associated with it. Cooking meat over an open flame produces cancer-causing substances, also known as carcinogens, that are be harmful to your health. There are two kinds of chemical compounds which form when barbecuing that are associated with the increase in risk of cancer: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The black crust and char marks on meat contain the most HCAs. HCAs are formed in meat when it is cooked at high temperatures. This chemical is also found in cigarette smoke. Barbecue smoke contain PAHs which are formed when the juices from the meat drip onto the coals and other hot surfaces and create smoke. Then these carcinogens are deposited onto the surface of the meat as it swirls in the air.

            So what are some ways to enjoy barbecuing and minimize the risk of cancer?

  1. Clean the grill prior to cooking which will remove any old charred debris that may stick to food.
  2. Use herbs like rosemary or thyme to add flavor and reduce the dripping of fat, creation of smoke, and prevent char.  Also, marinades made with vinegar or lemon changes the acidity of the meat and prevent PAHs from sticking.
  3. Grilled vegetables and fruits do not create carcinogens when they char so whenever possible, grill vegetables and fruits.
  4. Using lean meat and cutting off most of the fat along with wrapping foods in foil will reduce the amount of juices dripped onto the coal and the smoke created.
  5. Pre-cooking your meat halfway removes some of the fat that can drip and smoke, and it greatly reduces the amount of time your meat sits on the grill being exposed to toxins.
  6. Cut off the charred/burnt pieces of the meat

Using these simple tips and tricks can greatly reduce the amount of carcinogens produced through barbecuing. Now everyone can enjoy this seasonal activity in perfect weather with great company without worrying about the increased risk of cancer.