‘When high-heat meets the surface of meat, a chemical reaction occurs involving the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAa) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs),’ explains Adams. ‘These compounds are formed with fat and juices from the meat drip onto open fire, causing flames that contain PAHs that adhere to the surface of the meat.’ What’s more: Studies have shown exposure to HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animals, and researchers are still investigating associations between meat-cooking techniques and cancer risks.
The good news is that there are plenty of hacks to minimize this reaction. Dr. Adams recommends simply using a low-sugar marinade, brushing meats in sauces or oils, or even just dunking the proteins in water before placing on the grill.
‘This can minimize or block this reaction from occurring,’ he says. ‘Also, frequent turning of the meat while cooking, trimming off burnt or charred pieces or pre-cooking over a lower-heat source will all lower creation of these harmful compounds.’