Thursday, February 26, 2009

Blowin' Smoke 007 - BBQ & Carcinogens

"Does all of that black stuff cause cancer?". That's the question that was posed to me by a friend when I couldn't shut up about the merits of a robust crust on a slice of brisket. I've always known that BBQ was not the healthiest of meal options, but does a well smoked brisket cause cancer? This required some research.

Every year around Memorial Day, reporters jump on the annual backyard barbecue buzz-kill bandwagon of telling the general public that their charred hot dogs will send them to an early grave. This is because meats cooked at a high heat create heterocyclic amines or HCA's when the creatine in the meat is subjected to the fire. This creates the HCA-rich burnt crust on the meat, and this is further exacerbated by flare-ups from fat dripping into the fire. The National Institutes of Health put out their eleventh edition of the "Report on Carcinogens" where they identify elements known to cause cancer, and HCA's are on their ominous list. Cecil Adams has a good explanation of the report here.

So are we Texas BBQ aficionados at a higher risk of cancer because of our passion? I'm no doctor, but I can tell you that the first line of defense is cooking temperature. The definition of "low and slow" cooking is using low temperatures created with indirect heat, with an ideal smoking temp is 225-250. The "Report on Carcinogens" notes that the main method of reducing HCA formation is to keep the cooking temperature below 392 degrees. Between the low cooking temp and the indirect heat, the risks of HCA formation is greatly limited. Even better news is that drinking beer actually inhibits the body's ability to accumulate HCA's even if you're chowing down on burnt bits. So turn down the heat, crack open a beer, and keep enjoying those well formed crusts on your favorite smoked meat.

- BBQ Snob

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's agreat report by Texas A&M that the fat in brisket actually contains the same good stuff that olive oil contains so it's actually good for you, all the encouragement I needed to eat more brisket.
Incidently, an electric meat smoker allows you to control the temperature and brisket is smoked at 190 degrees and holds that tem. consistently. In addition, there is no flare up or open flame and the little wood required only smolders, doesn't burn and let off the bad stuff.


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.