Charcoal is a cost-effective and efficient fuel source. It also produces some of the most flavorful grilled food that you can enjoy at home. If you love rich, smoky, and charred meats and vegetables, your charcoal grill will be your favorite cooking appliance during the warmer months of the year.
As part of a balanced diet, grilled food isn’t likely to cause health complications. Charcoal is not quite as safe as gas, and it can result in some volatile compounds in your food, but the negative reports aren’t as bad as they seem.
Is charcoal grilling bad for you as some articles suggest? Let’s take a closer look at the topic and find out…
The Char is More Dangerous Than the Charcoal
Grilled food is older than civilization. From the time that our ancestors could make fire, they were cooking the food that they hunted.
It’s a tradition that has survived in the modern day. Backyard grilling is a national pastime in America and many nations around the world. Propane grills have become incredibly popular since the late 1960s, but charcoal grilling is right up there, with many preferring the simplicity and rich flavor that charcoal offers.
Some people and publications will tell you that charcoal is bad for you, but the problem isn’t actually the charcoal itself… it’s the char.
When juices and fat drip from the grill onto the charcoal beneath it, the compounds are quickly vaporized, rising back to the food and creating the char that we all know and love. This crisp layer is incredibly flavorful and it’s what most people aim for when grilling.
However, in the process, charcoal releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, while the food produces heterocyclic amines.
Both of these groups of compounds have been found in studies to increase the risk of colorectal cancers. They are recognized carcinogens and many health groups warn against consuming heavily charred food.
How bad are these compounds? Science hasn’t answered this question yet. We know that carcinogens can lead to cancer in laboratory conditions, but there are no clear guidelines on how much charred meat you can safely eat before increasing your risk. Less is obviously better, but there are no widely agreed standards here.
Carcinogens are found in peanuts, plastic food containers, vehicle exhaust gasses, and a range of synthetic and organic substances. The body can process some carcinogens without negative effects. This is why dietary balance and moderation are key to long-term health.
Anecdotally, we can look at people like friends and family members, or even in your own case, where you’ve enjoyed grilled food for years without negative side effects. With moderation and healthy dietary choices, some occasional charred meat isn’t likely to be that bad for your health.
There are also steps you can take to keep the food healthier when you cook on a charcoal grill.
Tips for a Healthier Charcoal Grill
You can cook health-conscious food on a charcoal grill by:
Keeping meat away from direct heat. Stack your coals on one side of the grill, and cook your meat on the other side with the hood down. This will prevent flareups and the volatile compounds that are created.
Cutting down on how much you char your meat. The meat should be browned and slightly firmer on the exterior, but it should never be burned to a crisp. Well-done steak over a grill contains more carcinogens than a steak that is cooked medium or rare.
Only using additive-free charcoal and avoiding lighter fluid to start your grill. Keep your food free of the most dangerous contaminants by using a charcoal chimney starter instead. This Chimney Starter from Char-Griller is a great solution for every charcoal grill or smoker.
Grilled Food Has Been Around For Longer Than Written History Has Existed
Don’t worry too much about the carcinogens potentially found in charred food. With sensible cooking and moderation, you won’t have to worry about health complications.
Humans have enjoyed grilled food for longer than written history has existed, and we’ll keep on loving the rich and smoky flavors of charcoal grilling for countless years to come.