Your 4th of July barbecue

Fire Work
Fire Work (Photo credit: Mydaas!)

So here we are, this is Independence Day!

I thought I would catch you before you start your bbq. I do not mean to cut your appetite and spoil your day, but there are a few things you might want to remember so you can enjoy your meal even more. First of all, if this is the only time of the year that you are having a barbecue, just forget about this post. If on the other hand, you love to do it all summer long and even more, you might want to consider the few pieces of advice I have for you.

A barbecue is a cooking tool that uses direct combustion. That is why it produces gas and smokes that contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) such as benzo(a)pyrene (B(a)P). Those fumes are even more toxic when fat gets burnt by the flames. When you charbroil your meat or fish, you are adding a pretty large amount of B(a)Ps, that are typically in the black charcoal-like parts and give it its smoky taste. To be fair, those chemical compounds are also present in the environment and can contaminate raw food as well. Anybody who breathes air (!) is also exposed to those PAHs since they are pretty much everywhere.  B(a)Ps are found in coal-tar, in automobile exhaust fumes (especially from diesel engines, and do not get me started on diesel. This is a French specialty and it makes the air over there so horrible), in all smokes resulting from the combustion of organic material (including cigarette smoke, or smoke from anything else you choose to smoke!). That is why the smoke from your neighbor’s cheminee, that smells so wonderful when the first chills of winter arrive, is actually not so good for you. Sorry!

There is another problem linked to barbecuing: Protein combustion leads to the formation of  heterocyclic amines (HCAs), even more so if you overcook the meat or fish.

Those two groups of chemical compounds, PAHs and HCAs,  have carcinogenic properties and you should try to limit your exposure as much as possible.

So here is what you can do:

Do not overcook and certainly do not burn: you know I am always nervous about undercooked meat and fish because heat is the best way to destroy parasites and bacteria, but it is not a good idea to overcook either.

Do not put the food in direct contact with flames.

Do not eat the black parts (and that is also true for your breakfast toasts), even if you like the taste of it!

Limit the dripping of grease directly onto the flames

Clean the grill regularly so you do not burn the left-over fat over and over

If you are the designated ”barbecuer”, try not to inhale the fumes

Certain ingredients that are anti-oxidant can inhibit the formation of those nasty HCAs. So add tomatoes, onion and so on to your barbecue and to any meat or fish dish. Again, my grandmother was right to cook her delicious roasts with tomatoes, garlic and onions!




  1. JACOB926@MSN.COM says:

    NICE…is all the above true if you are grilling kosher meats?

    1. raphaele says:

      Yes! Chemistry does not discriminate…
      Thanks Jacob926

  2. As one who loves burned toast, I am sad but appreciative of this informative post.

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