Ten Ways to Avoid Carbon from Barbecues This 4th of July

smoky 4th of july barbeque photo

Hmmm, the smoky flavor of carcinogens give PAHs for thought. Photo via Flickr by brandi666

Stand out of the line of fire of smoky fumes. Sure, that's the first defense. But what about the dangers of grilled dogs, ribs, and salmon? I've long heard tales of how a charcoal grilled burger is the equivalent of a carton of cigarettes. So when flipping through Cure magazine at my acupuncturist's office, I discovered an article from Lena Huang about "Good Grilling" with easy steps to reduce risk. If there's 225,000 metric tons of CO2, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and other VOCs spewing into the atmosphere from 60 million BBQs across the country this holiday weekend, how about waving a flag this 4th of July over the carcinogens you eat? The barbies will fire up this July 4th, and there's plenty of smart tips on greening the occasion. But if you want freedom from HCAs and PAHs, the carcinogens created from grilling, there are some simple solutions. Findings from a European study, reported last month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, confirmed the link between heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a carcinogen found in grilled meat and fish, with a higher risk of breast, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer.

HCAs form in meats and fish cooked at high temperatures when amino acids and creatine (a chemical in muscle) react. Another nasty culprit, PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) form when fat drips off the meat into the flame or heating element. PAHs rise in the smoke and deposit on the food. Yeah, lots of delicious stuff is bad for us.

Don't toss out the Smokey Joe along with the farmed shrimp just yet. Here's ten steps to greener grilling with lower or no carcinogenic risk:

1. Flip meat frequently when cooking to prevent HCAs from forming.

2. Raise grilling surface from the heat source to reduce the temperature and black char.
3. Cook at lower temperatures.

4. Marinate meats to decrease HCA formation up to 96 percent.

5. Pre-cook meats to limit exposure on the grill.

6. Trim fat off meat and grill leaner cuts that drip less to reduce exposure to PAHs. 

7. Spread foil on or under the grill to reduce dripping fat that causes PAHs. 

9. Grill veggie burgers, vegetables and fruits (HCAs only forms on muscle meats). Note: organ meat (liver), eggs, and tofu have little to no HCA content.

10. Skip the briquettes and their nasty contaminants. (Charcoal generates 11 pounds of CO2 and propane emits six pounds of CO2.) Go with lump charcoal.

You already know about responsibly-raised meats, organic vegetables, reusable containers, etc. but here's a refresher on green cookouts. It tastes better if its healthier for you, your guests, and neighbors. Celebrate and toast your locally brewed beer to more independent thinking.

More on green grilling:
How To: Grill Green
Baja BBQ Firepack: Instant, Easy and Eco-friendly
The Sierra Club's "P's and Q's of BBQ"
TreeHugger Picks: Tips for Green Summer Fun

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