Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

Tag Archives: grilling

Eating grilled meat increases your chance of cancer

Sorry, it just ain’t so. I say “sorry” because there are some people who seem to want grilled meat to be unhealthy—beats me as to why (perhaps it’s the “if it tastes good it must be bad for you” syndrome?). Anyway, this myth got its start because grilling—like some other cooking techniques—produces heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are “reasonably anticipated” to be carcinogens in humans. What this means is that there is no evidence that they actually are carcinogens in humans, but someone thinks that if they keep looking long and hard enough they will find some evidence. As an example, a recent prospective study in 120,000 women found no relationship between breast cancer and eating red meat or the way the meat was cooked. “But but but,” the worry-warts will say, “HCAs cause cancer in rats and mice!” Yes, but we are not rats or mice (most of us, anyway) and what’s true for them is not always true for us. There is evidence, for example, that early humans adapted a digestive system to safely eat cooked food while rodents did not.  Also, just because a high dose of something, like the high doses of HCAs that the experimental rats and mice were given, causes a health problem does not mean that the very small doses we get in our food will also cause a problem.

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When grilling a burger, flip it only once for best results.

I am not sure where this one originated, but I hear it frequently. In fact, flipping the burger several times during grilling gives more even cooking and a more evenly browned surface. You won’t get those grate marks, but who cares? It’s going in a bun anyway. It is true that you shouldn’t press on the burger with your spatula during cooking—this just squeezes juice out, and we all love juicy burgers!

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