Charcoal or Gas? This Is the Healthier Way to Grill

Settling an age-old debate once and for all.

Charcoal or Gas? This Is the Healthier Way to Grill

Settling an age-old debate once and for all.

It’s the question amateur grill masters will argue over until the end of time: Charcoal or gas?

Among flavor buffs, charcoal is the unmistakable victor. You won’t get that smoky sear from any gas grill. For cleaner folks, gas is the way to go. Clean-up time is nil—and you’re much less likely to burn the neighborhood down. Then, there are proponents and opponents, split along equal lines, on matters of size, price, maintenance, portability, environmental footprint, cooking time, crispiness… The list goes on.

But what about healthiness?

The indisputable answer—charcoal fans, you may want to sit down—is gas.

By cooking on a charcoal grill, you imbue your meat with two molecules: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). When you heat up meat over an open flame, fat from your meat naturally melts off and drips into the fire. The fire then turns that fat into HCAs and PAHs, which bind to the smoke, get carried skyward, and fuse onto your meat.

Here’s the bad news. Both HCAs and PAHs are believed to increase your risk of developing cancer—and it’s not just some fringe research. The scientific community is in (rare) consensus on this one. Studies in Cancer ScienceCancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention, the American Journal of Epidemiology, Genes and Environment, and Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer—not to mention a holistic review by the National Cancer Institute—have linked HCAs and PAHs to breast, colon, skin, lung, prostate, rectal, and pancreatic cancer cells. (Not for nothing: You’ll find PAHs in cigarette smoke, as well.)

Now, you may be wondering, if the flame is the issue, why is gas superior to charcoal? Open-flame gas grills exist, after all. And you’d be right—to a point. Open-flame gas grills are similarly toxic, thought not quite as bad; in addition to HCAs and PAHs, the charcoal itself also produces nitrogen-PAHs (NPAHs), so you’re exposing yourself to three carcinogens.

Still, if you’re inclined to get your grill on this summer, your best bet is to invest in a closed-flame gas grill. Oh, and if you’re looking for something to cook on it, don’t miss the 15 Best Steak Marinade Recipes on the Planet.

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