Healthy Grilling with Summer BBQ Spices

June is upon us and the weather forecast is sending us days of sunshine. Memorial Day, Father’s Day and summertime — the outdoor grill is the icon of good times.

Where there’s a grill there’s fire and coals. And those delivers the heat and smoke giving us those delectible, crispy outer bits of vegetables and meats loaded with that BBQ flavor. Oooh, doesn’t the mere thought make you long for sunshine, a relaxing evening, good conversation and a lemonade (or stronger). So nice…


There is that small problem of carcinogens. Trust me, this is NOT one of those doom ‘n’ gloom, “don’t do this” articles. But better informed than not, especially when there is an easy fix.

The Culprit: Grill smoke contains benzopyrenes, a type of carcinogen that is part of charcoal grill smoke. (It’s also a component of cigarette smoke.)

The Fix: Parsley. No surprise here. After all, parsley is one of the Fantastic 5 Antioxident Spice Heroes. Parsley’s volatile oils make it a chemoprotective food. In this case it helps neutralize benzopyrenes. So toss parsley into your rubs and sauces or mix into into the meat itself like with patties.

The Culprit: HCAs (aka heterocyclic amines). HCAs are cancer-causing compounds that are produced when muscle meats such as ground beef, lamb, or pork are grilled, barbecued, roasted, or fried. Consuming HCAs increases your risk for a miserable list of cancers such as colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, mammary and prostate.

The Fix: Rosemary, cinnamon, or colored Thai spices such as chilis, cumin, ginger and thai basil.  According to a recent study highlighted in Science Daily, J. Scott Smith a food chemistry professor from Kansas State University Smith, in research supported by the Food Safety Consortium, found that certain spices containing natural antioxidants would reduce HCA levels by 40 — 79 percent. Rosemary extract is on the higher end and Thai spices are on the lower, but even that is still significant enough to earn your attention.

If you want convenience check out a premixed Thai Spice Blend from My Spice Sage, a reputable online spice merchant.


Look, I’m not here to diagnose, preach or stand on a soap box. But how many carcinogenic risks are you exposed to everyday? Small, seemingly insignificant exposures do add up. Cancer sucks in a huge way so if you have control to significantly reduce a risk and keep doing what you love, in this case — enjoying the summer BBQ — well, why not go for the healthy summer BBQ spices?   

Photo Attribution: Pegwinn on Many thanks for putting this photo on the Creative Commons.