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Grilling? Don't Overcook Your Meat

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chances are this weekend you'll be out on the patio grilling meat for dinner, but be careful.

As CBS 2's Ed Curran reports, food researchers are warning that overcooking meat on the grill is not healthy, and you might want to consider taking certain precautions.

It's the sound of summer, the sizzle of meat on a hot barbecue, but when meat is overcooked, there are substances inside it that can hurt you.

Dr. Jim Felton of the University of California, Davis said, "These are extremely potent cancer causing substances ... some of the most potent that have ever been found."

Felton researches meat and how heat affects it. Whether it's beef, pork, chicken, or whatever, he said high internal temperatures can trigger a chemical reaction that can cause carcinogens called HCA-s.

"These reactions take a while to get going and they need a certain temperature over 300 to 350 degrees," he said.

But there are ways to prevent that reaction.

First of all, marinate your meat.

Dr. Felton said a marinade works as an insulator, allowing the meat to cook through, without getting to that 350 degree mark.

A lot of people fear that blackened meat is carcinogenic, but Dr. Felton said not to worry about charring.

"It's actually the fat dripping down on the charcoal. It comes back up and onto the meat and coats it and makes it black," he said.

Dr. Felton said besides marinating, another way to protect your meat is to precook it in a microwave for just a few minutes. It will release certain liquids which are the precursors to the carcinogens.

When your meat is on the grill, flip it and flip it often. Many cooks will tell you not to do that, but this study found that the more you flip, the better off you are.

"Each time you turn it, it cools off and the meat doesn't have the chance to reach those internal temperatures needed for this reaction to take place," Felton said.

Finally, Felton said unless you're eating overcooked meats at every meal, don't worry about grilling your favorite foods. "These are lifetime accumulated exposures that people get that give them cancer. So, having a bite of well done meat once a month isn't giving them cancer".

Dr Felton's research has found that grilling causes the most HCA compounds followed by pan-frying and broiling. Baking, poaching and stir frying produce the least.

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