Is Smoking, BBQ, or Grilling Bad For Health or Cancer-Causing? Read This!

by grillrepair on February 2, 2014

I have heard off-the-cuff comments and whispers about smoking barbecuing and grilling causing cancer and other serious health problems for years and I imagine we have all heard comments or psyeudo-scientific report sound-bites here and there.  I have always wondered if there is any truth to the rumors but like many non-essential things there are simply not enough hours in the day.   I say “non-essential” because this education would probably be fun and not terribly useful; if there was a big health problem we would not have rumors but “warming” stickers on food like we have on cigarettes.  However, it is one of those things in the back of my head to look up and know more about when i retire and have the time to read and learn what ever I choose.

I found a news article that I really like a lot.  The author seems to be really well-read regarding researched documents.  I will say in advance there is a silly comment that is incorrect but this does not take away or damage the over-all thesis of the article:

When it comes to grilling, the best tasting foods are cooked over low temps most of the way although, sadly, many backyard cooks have not learned this yet. The best grillmasters have learned that the best tasting foods are made when the majority of the cooking is not over open flame, with a 2-zone setup.

Unfortunately this is untrue.  We distinguish 3 basic types of cooking outdoors which are barbecuing, grilling and smoking.  This is greatly simplified as there are levels and mixed-areas of each but essentially smoking is low, off-set zoned cooking to allow smoke to permeate the food while it cooks in order to absorb flavor.

There are a dozen ways to describe and define various types and ways to smoke better or more efficiently but simplified, smoking is cooking in zones (off-set so heat is not directly on the food) so hot (and not so hot) smoke cooks the food while absorbing to add wood flavor.

Barbecuing is defined as cooking with charcoal but many of us refer to our gas alliances as “barbecues”.  A few decades ago outdoor gas appliances were called “broilers” which is a far better definition and is even still used by some of the older manufacturers like BroilKing, BroilMatae, BroilMaster who use the old branding (i believe) as an attempt to remind us that these are American made products several decades old.  Broiling is what we do with our outdoor gas appliances that do not cook at directed temperatures about 800 degrees.  This is very similar to used a convection over which heats air sent circulating through a cavity filled with food.  The phrase “barbecue” refers to the flavor added by burning charcoal and wood too hot to be called smoking and not hot enough to be grilling and this term defines a particular flavor.  Marketers have taught us to call our broilers “barbecues” and no one is hurt thereby.

Grilling is cooking with a very high heat.  Infrared grill burners that pressurize gas to emit direct heat to the cooking surface are the epitome of grilling because we grill over 800 degrees and that heat is directed to the grill grates where we grill the food.  A solid stone pizza oven will easily exceed 800 degrees but the augmented heat is radiating from the curved design and surrounding the food.   This is like baking at high temperatures.  Some grills like DCS, Alfresco, Lynx have learned to be very effective with conductive layers of briquettes so the convectional broiler-heat circulating inside the closed lid is made more intense at the grilling surface from heat radiating from the rods, briquettes, tiles, etc.  These also direct the heat to the grids so we can cook over an open flame but maneuver our cooking meat, fish, vegetables similarly to cooking on a big skillet.

Hence, the mistake above is referring to broiling and calling it “grilling”.   While grilling we’re usually cooking fast to lock-in moisture with an external searing heat directed at the cooking surface.  While barbecuing we are cooking at temperatures usually between 200-650 degrees with the hood closed so heat surrounds the food like it does in an over.  Smoking is usually 150-250 degrees and larger pieces of meat that will benefit from slow-cooking so as the moisture is dripping out of the food the most and flavorful smoke gets sucked in to change the flavor in subtle (and not so subtle) ways.

I do not believe that just because the author makes the same semantic mistake that most people make — using terms like grill and BBQ to mean more than they mean — changes the seriousness and importance of this article.

This article is chastising another publication for posting an article with a title like this one designed to get your attention but then goes on (he accuses) to make very irresponsible claims to cause fear that could cause us to stop enjoying smoking, barbecuing, grilling foods because we’re afraid of dying for it.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-goldwyn/slate-errs-big-time-in-ar_b_4701920.html

This article is what I would call “must read” material.  The post describes why we use “hardwoods” as opposed to any wood we feel like trying and goes on to make very realistic and pragmatic examinations of gas cooking, charcoal, cooking, propane, burning and many other factors that affect how we cook and what we eat.

This is an article everyone should read twice… and then go cook something awesome, take a picture of it and post it in the comments to show that a scary title and half-a**ed references will not stop us from eating what we love, will not turn us into tofu-eating sourpusses.

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