It's Backyard Barbecue Time
Four Tips for Healthy Grilling from the AICR Test Kitchen

Veg Kabobs On GrillGrab the tongs, put on the chef's apron and fire up the grill. Warm weather sets picnic fever in motion and according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association, 4 out of 5 American households will be polishing up the backyard grill for the season.

If you plan to grill out on Memorial Day you're not alone: the May holiday is one of the top grilling days, though many Americans do grill year round. Whether for a family gathering, a beach party or an informal backyard soiree, we love to grill and these are America's favorites: hamburgers, steak, chicken, hot dogs and ribs.

And all that grilled meat, say AICR experts, may be a problem.

Flames and Meat: A Risky Combination

When meat, poultry and fish are cooked with high temperatures – especially when well-done or charred – two cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form. These substances can damage DNA and may increase risk for colon cancer.

Keep in mind that too much red meat (more than 18 oz. per week) and any amount of processed meat, such as hot dogs, are factors that increase colorectal cancer risk on their own, so grilling and eating big portions of these foods may mean added risk. The good news: there are ways to celebrate the backyard barbecue and with a few simple strategies, be a little healthier.

Add Some Color to Your Grill


Asparagus, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and corn on the cob are favorites – grilling brings out flavors that even picky eaters enjoy. Cut into chunks for kabobs or cook in a grill basket. Or toss with a small amount of olive oil and grill whole.


Cut fruit before putting it on the grill: apples, peaches and pears can be halved and bananas split lengthwise. Use fruit that is about a day or two away from being completely ripe so it holds its texture better. If you brush fruit or the grill with a bit of oil, it won't stick, and remember to watch closely so it doesn't get overdone. Serve as is, with a sprinkle of cinnamon or a dollop of plain frozen yogurt.

Steps to Safer Grilling

  1. Think Low and Slow. Slow down the cooking time with a low flame to limit burning and charring. Cooking meats at a lower temperature reduces the amount of the carcinogens, HCA and PAH. More tips: cut off any visible fat (to reduce flare-ups), cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side (prevents fat and juices from dripping on them) and cut off any charred portions of the meat.
  2. Marinate the Meat. Mix up a marinade with herbs and vinegar or lemon juice and keep the meat steeping in the fridge while you prepare the sides. Marinating meat has been shown to reduce formation of HCAs and although it's not clear why, some evidence points to the acids (vinegar and citrus) or the herbs' antioxidant content. Even just 30 minutes in the marinade can help. And the bonus — your guests will rave about the tenderness and added flavor from the marinade.
  3. Partially Precook. You can do this in the microwave, oven or stove to help reduce the amount of time the meat is exposed to high heat. Enjoy the aroma and flavor from grilling but minimize the risks. To ensure safe food handling, just be sure to put the food on the preheated grill immediately to complete cooking
  4. Sizzle with Veggies and Fruits. Boost cancer prevention with these foods on the menu and you can grill away without worry as the cancer-causing compounds related to grilled meat don't form on grilled veggies and fruits. Try the ideas suggested in the "Add Some Color" box to expand your grilling repertoire.

Another way to heat it up is with this Grilled Ginger Tuna recipe – perfect with grilled fruit on the side.

Grilled Ginger Tuna

(adapted from the New American Plate Cookbook)

  • 1 lb. fresh tuna, boneless and skinless
  • 1 tsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 small jalapeno chile, seeded and minced or 1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice

Prepare barbecue grill to medium-high.

Cut tuna into 16 equally-sized cubes and place them in a bowl. Add canola oil and toss fish to coat. Add ginger, jalapeno or red pepper flakes, salt, pepper to taste and lime juice. Toss and mix well. Cover and refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.

Divide tuna cubes evenly among 4 skewers. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes, turning frequently, using tongs. Fish is done when it is just cooked through and no longer pink on inside.

Serve immediately, with fruit or salsa.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 134 calories, 2 g. total fat (<1 g. saturated fat), 0 g. carbohydrate,
27 g. protein, 0 g. dietary fiber, 187 mg. sodium.

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