There are still some things that don’t cause cancer (yet), but barbecued meat is not one of them. Charred flesh contains heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a toxic substance that bonds to DNA, causes genetic mutations, and has been linked to pancreatic, prostate, stomach and breast cancers. The good news is that HCAs can be greatly reduced—and flavours can be greatly boosted—by barbecuing old school.
While simply avoiding the most charred portions of meat can reduce carcinogen exposure, that’s not always feasible—and, let’s face it, nobody wants to be that guy. Instead, marinating meat with spices high in polyphenols (that’s science lingo for chemicals that are good for you)—like rosemary, thyme and oregano—or in antioxidants (like garlic, red wine and onion) will do the trick quite nicely.
Studies have shown that meat marinated with spices has significantly lower levels of HCAs in it. That’s how they’ve been doing it in the West Indies for a while now, and they apparently invented this whole putting meat on fire thing.