We get to see a lot of pretty sights during the grilling season. But smoke rising from the backyards of almost every household isn’t one of them.
When you’re cooking on a charcoal grill, you start to wonder: am I doing the right thing? Will my body be thanking me for smoking my food?
The answer to that is pretty much in the negative. Charcoal grills have the worst reputation regarding the user’s health. Most of this is contributed by the formation of carcinogens and poisonous gases.
So is charcoal grilling bad for you? And what are the consequences of using a charcoal grill in the wrong setting? Here’s an in-depth look at the subject.
Who should use the charcoal grill?
If you’re the type of person who loves a smoky taste in your steak, then go for a charcoal grill. No other type of grill can compare to the smoky taste and texture of the charcoal grill. Adding a hint of smoke to your food will have a positive effect on your food.
Furthermore, consider buying a charcoal grill if you want to cook at higher temperatures. This is usually the case of steaks and burgers. Since the heat is harder to control, your food will rise to extreme temperatures.
Also, if you’re lower on the budget, you should consider a charcoal grill over other types of grills. But keep in mind that you will have to buy the coals as well as any other accessories.
If you’re new to the world of grilling, you should invest in a gas or electric grill. They’re easier to handle and maintain, and they provide finer control over the temperature.
Who shouldn’t use the charcoal grill?
Charcoal grills are known for their signature smoky flavor. Part of this smoky taste comes from fat and marinade dripping to the flames and getting burnt up. Some people aren’t fans of the smoky taste, labeling it as dry and suffocating. If that’s the case, a charcoal grill is not for you.
Alongside that, if you don’t have a lot of patience, consider a different grill. Charcoal grills take longer to preheat as the coals need to be gradually lit up. It’s not just about patience though. More preheating time means that you are delaying in serving time, which will ruin your impression in front of your guests.
Another reason why so many users switch to other types of grills is the limited level of control. On a gas grill, you can very easily control the temperature using a knob. And the same applies to an electric grill.
But on charcoal grills, controlling the temperature requires more skills and knowledge. You can do so by varying the number of coals, the degree of ventilation, and the height of the cooking rack from the coals.
This takes more time and effort to master. And there is no guarantee of what temperature you will end up with.
Hate cleaning? You shouldn’t buy a charcoal grill because it is difficult to clean up. Since there are more creosote and fat buildup, you will have a harder time cleaning the grill. There are some special brushes with hard bristles meant to scrape the food that remains off. But even then, cleanup can take upwards of 10 minutes.
Is charcoal grilling healthy?
Charcoal grilling has by far the worst reputation regarding health. There are two main reasons for this.
The first reason is the buildup of toxic chemicals in the char of the food. Charcoal grills tend to reach extreme temperatures. And when this happens, the fat present in the meat will start to melt and drip down to the coals at the bottom. This then generates smoke, the particulates of which get stuck on your food.
This smoke contains high levels of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). Additionally, the charred layer that forms on your food at high heat contains Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs). Both of these compounds are the source to produce carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer).
You can limit this by keeping the lid of the grill open, allowing as much smoke to exit as possible. Also, try to moderate the temperature by opening the vents all the way. This will prevent your food from charring.
The second reason is the buildup of grease and creosote. Both of these substances contain toxins that can either cause cancer or have an immediate effect on your health. Grease in particular contains a lot of unhealthy oil which isn’t good for people with heart conditions.
You can get rid of this by starting with a clean charcoal grill. Some creosote and grease will form on the meat while you’re cooking it, but it isn’t much you can do about that. To identify the presence of this, check to see if your food tastes bitter and crunchy.
Where should I not use a charcoal grill?
Charcoal grills are not good for indoors. The amount of smoke and carbon monoxide they produce can be outright fatal. And not to mention that you would need a tremendous amount of ventilation.
Without ventilation, you risk suffocating yourself and other people. Smoke can settle inside the lungs, resulting in long-term respiratory complications as well. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Improper ventilation also means incomplete combustion of carbon. This leads to the rapid formation of carbon monoxide, which is nauseating at best and lethal at worst. Merely opening the doors and windows won’t save you from this either. The best way to counter this is to just use your grill in the open. Balcony grilling is also a good option, but it’s been banned by some states.
If you do want to use your charcoal grill indoors, you can try investing in a griddle instead of a grill. We can use gas grills for indoor use, albeit you will need a lot of ventilation. You can also utilize grilling pans and skillets for the job. But again, you won’t get the smoky taste that an outdoor grill will give you.
Also, before you buy a charcoal grill, check with your local law to see if these grills are banned. A few states are starting to issue a ban on privately owned charcoal grills, as they pose a public health hazard.
The state of California is perhaps the most prominent in this regard. Various districts in the state, including the Truckee district, have imposed a full ban on campfires and charcoal grills. California’s 2019 Fire Code has also implemented multiple restrictions on the use of charcoal grills. While not completely banned, users required to take certain precautions to prevent a fire.
What are the consequences of using a charcoal grill?
If you’re not careful about where and how you use a charcoal grill, you could be affecting your health. It’s good to use a charcoal grill if you want to reach higher temperatures in a shorter amount of time. However, you’re risking your overall well-being when doing so.
The formation of carcinogens and oily substances is a huge concern. Long-term consumption of these substances can lead to various cancers. And if you have heart problems or deal with obesity, consider a gas grill over a charcoal one.
Furthermore, the incomplete combustion of carbon produces carbon monoxide. As little as 150 ppm of carbon monoxide in the body can be lethal. This usually happens when you try to use your charcoal grill indoors. Proper ventilation is key to a healthier grilling experience.
You may also face charges if you use your charcoal grill illegally.
Always check with state and district laws to see if you can use your charcoal grill. It’s best to follow the law, as the rules are set only for our safety.
Charcoal grills are also detrimental to the environment. All the compounds they produce can spread and affect your neighbors and the integrity of the atmosphere.
So is charcoal grilling bad for you? The short answer? Yes. Charcoal grills are by far the most unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly grills. They produce a lot of carcinogens and toxic gases. And you will end up worsening the situation if you decide to smoke your food.
However, there are some precautions you can take to prevent this. Do not smoke your food for longer than recommended by the recipe. Don’t use your grill indoors, even if the windows and doors are open. And never forget to clean your grill after every use.