Can Beer Reduce Levels of Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Grilled Meat?


Enjoying that charcoal-grilled medium rare steak or a rack of barbeque pork-chops has become the go to way to enjoy sunny skies and spend quality times with friends and family. But reports of carcinogens that accumulate on the meats’ surface as a direct result of grilling has also made it join the ranks as one of our guiltiest pleasures. Add a cold beer to your plate’s side? Couldn’t possible make things more healthy—just extra calories, right? A new report out of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry offers solace to all those grill+beer lovers: marinating your meat in beer can significantly reduce the number of carcinogens that form during grilling.

Grilling & Carcinogenesis

Cancer-causing compounds formed during grilling typically fall into one of two categories: the Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs), which form when amino acids, sugars, and creatine react under high temperatures (~325F), and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), which form when the meat’s fat drips onto burning charcoal and evaporates into a smoke, which then settles back on the meat. Laboratory studies have linked both compounds to mutagenic activity—that is, they are able to mutate DNA, alter cellular behavior, and increase the risk of carcinogenesis. Animal studies have previously shown that exposure to HCAs and PAHs can lead to cancers of the blood, breast, colon, liver, skin, lung, prostate, and other organs, according to the National Cancer Institute. It should be duly noted that the majority of research involving the carcinogenic risk of grilling has been conducted in animal models; whether human exposure would cause similar effects is unclear. While animal models cannot perfectly predict human response, they do lend legitimacy to the possibility of these adverse effects in humans.

What role does beer play in the grilling process—besides being the perfect companion to your BBQ ribs?

Beer and BBQ vs. Cancer

The study in question tested the effects of three different types of beer marinades – Pilsner Beer, nonalcoholic Pilsner Beer, and Black Beer – on the levels eight PAH compounds classified “as suitable indicators of carcinogen potency” in charcoal-grilled pork. Preliminary testing indicated that dark beer has the strongest antiradical activity (68.0%), Pilsner beer (36.5%) came in second, and the nonalcoholic Pilsner variety (29.5%) came in third. Antiradical activity was meant to predict the magnitude of the marinades effect on reducing PAH formation. The study’s results followed an identical pattern—dark beer showed the strongest inhibition of PAH formation (53%), then Pilsner (25%), while nonalcoholic Pilsner inhibited PAH formation by only 13%. Study authors suggest that the extra antioxidants in dark beer may be responsible for its strong antiradical effects.

The takeaway: dark ale has the ability to reduce PAH levels by more than a half when compared to unmarinated meat. Importantly, it also provides a taste-bud tested way to mitigate the formation of potentially cancer-causing compounds during your grilling session.