Is Barbecuing Bad for You? Tips for Healthy Grilling

healthy grilling tips

Grilling has long been considered one of the healthiest ways to cook. Yet over the past several years, much has been written about the potential health hazards lurking in barbecued foods. Indeed, research has found that the fat in foods on a grill — meat and poultry, in particular — drip into the flames, flare up, and create a smokey, charred surface that may contain carcinogens.

Does that mean you have to give up your beloved barbecue?

Absolutely not.

Grilling continues to be, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways to infuse flavor into food and minimize added fats, especially in summer when we all want to be outdoors. But a few pointers can really minimize the risks. Below you’ll find a handy guide from Cooking Light to help you get smart when it comes to grilling healthfully:

1. Marinate Your Meat

Marinating meat helps to reduce carcinogens. Kansas State University researchers marinated steaks in three different mixtures of oil, vinegar, and herbs and spices. After grilling, carcinogens in the marinated steaks were cut by 57 to 88 percent. Dozens of studies confirm the effect. The reason it works is not so clear: The marinade may create a protective barrier between the meat’s proteins and the heat of the grill. Or the antioxidants in the marinade may combat the carcinogens head-on.

2. Clean Your Grill

Keep your grill clean by scrubbing with a brush before and after grilling food. Scrubbing keeps the buildup of carcinogens left on the grill grates to a minimum and makes your food taste so much better.

3. Ban Flare Ups

When you cook a fatty piece of meat, the fat that drips onto the flames creates smoke which may contain the much talked about carcinogens. If you grill lean meats, poultry, and fish, you’ll have less fat which means less smoke, which means less of the bad stuff.

4. Beware of Burnt

A bit of char is unavoidable (and it tastes good), but incinerated meat will contain more cancer-causing compounds. Don’t get the coals superhot and then plop fatty meat directly on the grill. The blackened parts of meat may also contain carcinogens, so remove all charred or burned portions of food before eating.

5. Work the Grill

Depending on your grill, it may not be the same temperature throughout-some have hot spots while others have cooler areas. Work the whole surface of the grill to keep certain areas from flaming more than others. If you do have a flare up, just move the food to a cooler part of the grill until the fire dies down

6. Size Matters

Size matters when it comes to grilling meat. Cube or slice meat into smaller portions to speed up the cook time or choose a quick-cooking option like shrimp or fish.

7. The Shorter the Cook Time, The Better

The faster foods are cooked, the less likely they’ll develop dangerous charring. Don’t cook meat past its goal temperature: 165 degrees for ground poultry; 160 degrees for ground red meats or mixtures and fresh pork; or 145 degrees for red meat steaks or chops.

8. Consider Other Foods 

Go beyond meat and try grilling some unexpected foods like peaches, asparagus, or even bread. Throw fruits and veggies on the grill for a tasty, nutrient-rich side or dessert or give pizza a try for a quick dinner.

Now that you know how to grill, the question becomes what to grill. This Grilled Chicken with Tomato Avocado Salad is definitely on my summer “to do” list.

What do you like to throw on the barbie?

healthy grilling tips


06.03.2013 at5:13 AM #


Great article, and some awesome tips, thank you!

06.03.2013 at6:36 AM #

Anne Mullen

I’ve used La Martinique Vinaigrette dressing for years (I know, I should make my own…) and I use this and some honey to marinate thin boneless chicken breasts before grilling. The chicken doesn’t have to be in the marinade very long, but it can be. The honey puts a nice glaze on the chicken, and all the seasoning in the dressing spices it up. Very tasty, and good cold the next day. Super easy and quick.

06.03.2013 at6:36 AM #

Katie Morford

Love a short cut. Thanks for sharing.

06.04.2013 at3:08 PM #


Thanks for the tips. I don’t take the time to marinate. I just found a great marinate/dressing recipe to try. I need to start grilling more fruit and veggies too.

06.04.2013 at3:08 PM #

Katie Morford

Both pineapple and peaches are excellent on the grill…served for both sweet and savory dishes.

05.21.2015 at7:07 AM #

Liz - Meal Makeover Mom

So many great tips. Thanks! This summer, I plan to do more fruit on the grill. I’m so accustomed to veggies but really need to be more creative 🙂

05.21.2015 at7:07 AM #

Katie Morford

Oooh…fruit on the grill. Forgot all about that. Now I know what we are having for memorial day dessert!

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