Safer grilling (and a recipe for grill lovers!)

by Heather Tedeschi, dietetic intern

Grilling is an end-of-summer favorite for many families, but you may have heard that that grilling can cause certain types of cancer.  What does this mean for backyard barbecue lovers?

According to the National Cancer Institute, heterocyclic amines, known as HCAs, are chemicals produced when meat is cooked using high temperature methods, including pan frying and grilling.  Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, known as PAHs, are produced when the fat on meat drips into the grill causing smoke to rise and come in contact with your meat.

Researchers have found that rodents who were fed HCAs and PHAs developed tumors of the breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, and the prostate.  While similar human studies have not been conducted, researchers have used questionnaires to examine meat consumption and cooking methods and estimate HCA and PAH exposures.  These studies found that high consumption of well-done, fried, and grilled meats were associated with higher rates of colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

Don’t despair, grill fans! Here are a few simple tips from the American Cancer Society on how to enjoy grilled foods while minimizing your exposure to HCAs and PAHs:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat, containing less fat, and trim excess fat. Fats that drip onto hot coals cause smoke, which contain potential carcinogens.
  • Line the grill with foil and poke small holes in the foil for fat to drip off.  The foil limits the amount of smoke that will come in contact with your meat.
  • Avoid charring your meat.  Charred or burned pieces of meat contain more HCAs.
  • Grill fruits and vegetables; many of the chemicals formed while meat is grilled are not formed while grilling fruits and vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables can also achieve that smoky flavor with less grilling time than meat.

Here’s a healthy summer recipe that for you to enjoy. Use fresh Colorado peaches if they are available!

Grilled Fish Tacos with Peach Salsa


15.09.02_fish_tacoFor the salsa:

  • 1 can 15.25 ounces peach halves (drained, rinsed, and chopped (about 1 cup))
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (finely chopped (about 1/2 cup))
  • 1/4 red onion (finely chopped (about 1/4 cup))
  • 1 whole jalapeno pepper (rinsed. seeded, and finely chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro (finely chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

For the fish:

  • 4 tilapia fillets (about 1 lb)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon low-sodium adobo seasoning
  • 1 package low-sodium sazon seasoning
  • 8 corn tortillas (warmed)


For the Salsa:
In a medium bowl, stir together chopped peaches, bell pepper, onions, jalapenos, cilantro, and lemon juice; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the fish:

  • Heat grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Using paper towels, pat fish dry, transfer to plate.
  • In a small bowl, stir together chili powder, low-sodium adobo and sazon packet.
  • Rub fish with spice mixture to coat completely.
  • Place fish on hot greased grill grates.
  • Cook, flipping once until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork (145°F), about 8 minutes.
  • Thinly slice fish.
  • To serve, fill each tortilla with 1/2 fish fillet and about 1/3 cup of salsa.


A Backyard Chef’s Guide to Healthier Grilling (n.d.).  Retrieved July 5, 2015, from

Chemical in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk (n.d.). Retrieved     July 3, 2015, from

Recipe Source: What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl

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