Do BBQs Cause Cancer?

In the U.S., Memorial day is BBQ day, especially this year when gasoline prices make lots of folks prefer to stay home and have a cookout with friends instead of travelling somewhere. Get out that lighter fluid, squirt in on your mesquite charcoal briquettes, and fire up. Then grill those hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken, or whatever and enjoy. BUT WAIT! Grilling or frying any meats creates chemicals that when ingested in really, really high doses causes cancer in laboratory rats. What to do? I lived in Texas for a few years, a state in which proper BBQ (which includes slow smoking of meats in addition to grilling (both producing carcinogens) is a religion. Now I live in California, where many people actually worry about carcinogens in grilled meats.

This post was inspired by an article in my local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, called “cue tips” The article gives advice about how to minimize exposure to these putative nasty chemicals when you grill. Unfortunately, if you follow their advice, the meat you cook will taste like cardboard! First they would have you use lean meats, trim off all fat, and flip the meat often. They would even have you microwave your steaks awhile before grilling. This is all supposed to reduce the amount of carcinogens formed. A dead Texan would be turning over in his grave reading the Bee article! You might as well cook the steak or burger in boiling water. They would even have you clean your grill with dish detergent!!!

The reason I must post this BBQ blasphemy is because these cautions are just another example of our national obsessive fear-mongering about anything that might be enjoyable. For more information, readers should read my essay from a few years back on Ecoworld entitled “Chemophobia” Toward the end of the article I describe research I did on benzo-a-pyrene, a rat carcinogen formed during the frying of meats. Although the fear mongers will say otherwise, NOBODY will EVER get cancer simply from eating fried or grilled meats. I know of no epidemiology study that has compared cancer rates in people who eat lots of BBQ meats vs. those who perhaps eat their meat prepared otherwise (perhaps raw?). If anyone can show me one that purports to show that BBQers have an increased risk of some cancer, please send it to me for critique. For more about how “scientific” studies are abused, read “Studies Show”

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