Health & wellness

fourth of july

Four steps to cancer-free barbecue

Chris Andreski grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in Virginia while waiting for the start of the Independence Day fireworks celebration over the National Mall in Washington.

AP/File 2012

Chris Andreski grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in Virginia while waiting for the start of the Independence Day fireworks celebration over the National Mall in Washington.

When you get the grill going on the Fourth of July, take care to BBQ safely. Grilling puts you near cancer-causing chemicals, warn Dana-Farber Cancer Institute doctors -- but with a few precautions, it’s easy to have a safe and healthy holiday.

Doctors said there are two cancer risk factors while grilling -- the high-heat can transform meat proteins so they become cancerous. Second, grill smoke contains cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; when smoke sticks to the meat, it can make that food dangerous.


Here’s how to keep you and your family safe without having to give up the burgers. Stacy Kennedy, a nutritionist at Dana-Farber, writes in a news release that “it’s really about planning ahead and making wise choices.”

1. Go for lean cuts of meat and thin marinades.

Leaner meats will drip less often and give you a less smoky cooking experience. You should also always trim your meats to get rid of excess fat or oil. Thin marinades help avoid charring and protect the meat from that harmful smoke. Try a marinade with vinegar or lemon.

2. Keep your time at the grill short, and flip your burgers often.

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Thaw the meat ahead of time, or partially cook it in a microwave before grilling. You want to avoid spending too much time exposed to the smoke -- and prevent fire flare-ups.

3. Blaze-proof your grill.

Keep your food at least six inches from the original heat source. You also may want to put up a small barrier to keep juices from spilling over. Aluminum foil makes a great lining -- don’t forget to poke holes in it! Or cook on cedar planks.

4. Go veg -- at least in part.

While you don't have to ditch all the meat on your grill, vegetables are safer to cook and eat. And you can even eat charred vegetables because their proteins aren’t affected by the high heat. Plus, vegetables help keep your plate balanced and colorful -- a good sign you’re eating a healthy meal, writes Kennedy. She adds: “Being overweight or obese ... are far greater risk factors for developing cancer than the consumption of grilled foods.”

Sanjena Sathian can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sasathian.
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