A. There’s no evidence that grilling causes cancer. But cooking meat at the high temperatures you use to grill—as well as broil and fry—creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds linked with some cancers.
Animal and laboratory studies suggest that HCAs may damage DNA and spur the development of tumors in cells of the colon, breast, prostate and lymph system. At temperatures of 350°F and hotter, amino acids and creatine (a natural compound that helps supply energy to muscles and nerves) react to form HCAs. PAHs form when fat drips onto hot coals, creating smoke that settles on food; these compounds have been associated with increased risk of breast cancer.
But "within the big picture of cancer prevention, there are much greater risks than grilling," says Colleen Doyle, M.S., R.D., director of Nutrition and Physical Activity for the American Cancer Society. For example, "if you’re 30 pounds overweight, that puts you at much greater risk for developing a number of cancers [than does eating grilled meats]."
When you do grill, there are several things you can do to reduce HCAs and PAHs.
Bottom Line: Keep your grill. While some studies suggest that grilling produces compounds linked with cancer, the risks associated with eating grilled meats are relatively small when you look at the big picture.
Related: Top 50 Grilling Recipes