5 Gross Grilling Mistakes Damaging Your Health

January 6, 2018
grilling mistakes - dr. axe

There’s nothing like getting family and friends together for a weekend of grilling in warm weather. However, before you get those healthy grilling recipes cooking, watch out for grilling mistakes.

Grilling mistakes pose some specific health risks, though, including exposure to high levels of cancer-causing compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs are formed in meat muscle tissue during high temperature cooking like grilling. (1) While most closely linked to stomach and colon cancers, HCAs also damage DNA and are linked to an increased risk in breast, liver, lung, prostate and skin cancer. (23)

Luckily, there are relatively easy ways to protect yourself from HCAs and other lesser-known grilling mistakes that could threaten your health.

Avoid These 5 Grilling Mistakes

grilling mistakes - dr. axe

1. You Use Store-Bought Marinades

If you marinade meat right, you can drastically reduce levels of cancer-causing compounds created during grilling. Read the ingredients on most store-bought marinades, however, and you’ll likely see many products contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, two problematic ingredients that actually make grilling much more dangerous. Using thicker, store-bought marinades containing sweeteners like sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or even honey makes charring more likely, possibly increasing exposure to carcinogens. (4)

Opt for thinner vinegar or lemon juice-based marinades rich in herbs and spices, including carcinogen-neutralizing rosemary, instead. Experiments from the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii discovered teriyaki marinade led to a 67 percent reduction in carcinogenic HCAs. A marinade containing turmeric and garlic reduce HCAs by 50 percent. Be careful, though, because sugary marinades can actually triple HCA levels. (5, 6)

The empowering take on this is that the American Institute for Cancer Research found that using healthy marinating recipes can actually lower HCA levels by up to 96 percent. (7)

grilling mistakes - dr. axe

2. You Fire Up Worming Meds

They say you are what you eat. And if you’re cooking up factory-farmed meat, you’re making one of the biggest grilling mistakes. Drugs are so common in agriculture today that harmful medications routinely turn up in nonorganic meat. For instance, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service  detects medications like ivermectin (an animal wormer), flunixin (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), penicillin and ciprofloxacin (antibiotics), and other drugs at levels that are in violation of current regulations. Some of these drugs are linked to neurological impacts, allergic reactions and kidney damage in humans. Exposing these meds in meat to high temperatures doesn’t always neutralize them all, and in some cases can make them more toxic. (89, 10)

If you’re grilling meat, always choose grass-fed, organic options. Of course, you can also choose organic veggies to grill, too. Just avoid ones on the dirty dozen list.

grilling mistakes potato foil - dr. axe

3. You Wrap Your Taters in Poison

Wrapping potatoes (or even fish) in aluminum foil with a dollop of butter is a fast and easy way to cook on the grill. The problem is aluminum foil has been shown to leach when exposed to high temperatures. That’s concerning, since there’s a link between aluminum and dementia. (11)

A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Electrochemical Science also found that exposing food in aluminum foil to heat caused leaching to occur in levels that would be considered unacceptable by the World Health Organization. (12)

grilling mistakes - dr. axe

4. You Use Nonstick Accessories 

Nonstick grilling accessories, including the actual grates, spatulas and grilling griddles, pans, and mats are tempting because they can make an otherwise messy cleanup a cinch. The problem is that perfluorooctanoic chemicals and related compounds commonly found in nonstick cookware have been linked to obesity, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, and toxicity to the brain, liver, prostate and kidneys. While it may require more elbow grease during cleanup, skip the nonstick grilling accessories and use ones without the chemical coatings instead. (13)

grilling mistakes - dr. axe

5. You Fail to Precook

The American Institute for Cancer Research highly recommends precooking meat before firing it up on the grill. This helps reduce “drippings” on the grill, which turn into smoke full of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Partially cooking meat in on the stovetop or oven and then immediately transferring to a preheated grill helps lower levels of PAHs. (14)

Read Next: 29 Healthy Grilling Recipes

Josh Axe

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  1. Denise on

    You’re suggesting partially cooking the meat in the microwave? Really? And that’s better than cooking on a grill?

  2. Calista on

    You can wrap them in parchment paper, grease them first….and I would never pre-cook in a microwave, get out the iron skillet.

  3. Pam on

    About aluminum foil…..should we eliminate using this altogether? And if so…when warming food in…let’s say…a toaster oven (left overs, etc), what else could be used instead?

    I use aluminum a LOT.

  4. Joe Anderson on

    This is great information on grilling. I would love to hear some thoughts on smoked meats, say a nice grass fed beef brisket cooked low (200 degrees) and slow (12 hours) in an offset smoker with hickory or applewood. It would seem HCAs due would not be a problem due to low heat, but is the smoking wood putting something nasty into my food? Are there better or worse types of wood to use in a smoker? The green ceramic cookers have a cult like following, but it seems to me the offset fire box is a better design. Thanks!

    • Cheryl on

      I was wondering about this too, because we Treager (pellet grill/smoker/convection oven) nearly all of our meat and chicken. Bought a 12″ and 6″ smoke tube too. Low and slow for brisket etc, reverse sear for others (slow cook, turn up high to get a quick sear at the end)

  5. Nena on

    I will weigh in on the aluminum foil issue. After making the point about not using it on the grill (i agree, as well as in the oven, the toaster oven, etc.,) I would have loved to see an alternative posted in the description of this recipe (which looks fabululous BTW). I have both a round and rectangular cast iron grill plus 3 sizes of Revere stainless steel bowls. I think a combo of them would work well. As for heating up leftovers in a toaster oven, use a glass bowl with glass cover (e.g. Old fashioned Pyrex) or top it with one of the cool silicone covers you can get at Ace (and I will bet Amazon, although I have’t looked. I recently bought (on Amazon) a clay garlic baker, so that I could avoid the standard wrapping in foil. I think it might be cool to look for clay bakers with lids to use in the oven and on the grill. I have the clay pot rice cooker, and the insert can be used in the oven. Come to think of it, I have three clay bread pans, the largest of which might very well work for this recipe cooked on the grill using the rectangular cast iron grill with the clay bread pan as a cover.

    As an add on comment, let me say how much I enjoy your collections of recipes. I alway read them (I have been a voracious recipe reader since my college days in 1964, when I waited for dinner in my co-op, reading the latest issue of Gourmet). A truly added benefit to these would be to add guidance in the description in modifying the recipes – like alternatives to foil, reducing sugar load, replacing potatoes with cauliflower to lessen the carb load, etc.). But do not stop. I am totally capable of making these adjustments. Just believe your readers would benefit. Hey, if you could use someone to read the recipes and spot the recommended adjustments, give me a shout.

  6. Katie on

    I’m confused. I read this article, and one of the five tips is to not wrap your food in foil. Then I click on the link for 29 healthy grilling recipes, and many of those recipes use foil to wrap the food in. Isn’t that dangerous according to this article?

  7. Christine on

    Instead of foil for the grill I grow horseradish in my garden and use the large leaves to wrap food in. You don’t eat the leaves, the outer ones burn a bit but the inner ones stay supple and moist (3 layers does nicely). The leaves give the food a subtle but tangy extra bit of flavour that goes well with salmon and other fish and especially beef. Maybe other large leafed edible plants would work too (not rhubarb!)

  8. Terri on

    What are your thoughts on Sous Vide cooking? I’m concerned to use mine due to cooking in plastic. Even at a low temp and using “BPA free” plastic. My brother in law does this with meat and then finishes it off on the grill.

  9. Renee on

    How can you send out an article titled: ALERT: 5 Gross Grilling Mistakes –
    and tell people about the dangers of using aluminum foil-

    Then attach 29 Healthy Grilling Recipes
    where the one for Salmon and Summer Veggies in Foil tells you to wrap it all in aluminum foil???

    Do you read what you are publishing?
    I love Dr Axe and all the good info-
    but when the bad gets mixed in with the good,
    what are we supposed to believe???

    • Debra Brown on

      Sooooooooo are there any health warning for using parchment paper in the oven? I enjoy using Pamper Chef stoneware.


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