Grilling this weekend? Marinate on this!

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Grilling this weekend? Marinate on this!


Summer is finally here, and chances are as the temperatures heat up, so is the grill! Between Father’s Day and summer Fridays, grilling is basically a rite of summer. But before you fire up the barbie, be sure to whip up a flavorful, antioxidant-rich marinade.

Why? Because grilling any meat at a high temperature creates a type of cancer-causing compound (carcinogen) called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs form as a reaction between high heat, the amino acid creatine and naturally occurring sugar. To add insult to injury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), another type of carcinogenic compound, are formed when fat drippings hit the coals or flames and produce smoke. The smoke sticks to your food…not ideal!

But don’t fret about your backyard fete – there’s a delicious solution to this carcinogen quandary!

Marinating meats in certain herbs and spices can slash the formation of HCAs by up to 90%. And simply trimming the fat from meat, grilling at a lower temperature, and controlling fire flare-ups cut down on the PAHs.

Many delicious herbs and spices have been found to block the formation of HCAs. The herbs and spices that appear to be the most protective include:

Basil Garlic Ginger Mint
Marjoram Oregano Rosemary Sage
Savory Tea* Thyme Turmeric

*any tea will do; you can also drink freshly brewed iced tea at your next cook-out

The key to a carcinogen-cutting marinade is to use an acid like lemon juice or vinegar as a base and be sure to leave out any added sugar, honey or other sweetener. Commercial barbecue sauces or marinades with added sugars have been found to triple HCA formation, so steer clear!

For marinade ideas, recipes, and grilling inspiration, check out our Pinterest page!

Real Life Tips: Forgot to marinade? Not a problem. It only takes a few minutes of marinating meat in herbs and spices for the protective effect to kick in. But the longer you marinade, the more flavorful the meat becomes. Fish was found to be less of a concern than beef, pork and chicken; bacon is the worst offender, and veggies don’t form HCAs at all. And if you see char on your meat, cut it off.

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University of Arkansas, Food Safety Consortium. (2007, June 28). Brush On The Marinade, Hold Off The Cancerous Compounds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2016 from

J Food Sci. 2008 Aug;73(6):T100-5.

J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Jun 20;60(24):6235-40. doi: 10.1021/jf302227b. Epub 2012 Jun 6.