How to Make Wood Fired Food Healthier

By Katie Conaway | cooking wood
Mar. 22017

Summer, fall, winter and spring, anytime is time for some delicious wood fired cuisine! Knowing the best cooking woods to use is key, but knowing the “healthier” way to grill and smoke the food is becoming more important.

Are Grilled or Smoked Meats Dangerous?

This has become a “bone of contention” in recent years. According to the National Cancer Institute, animal studies show an increased risk of certain types of cancer from cooked meat. The culprit for this increase are two chemicals formed from cooked meats:

  • Heterocyclic amines (HCA)
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

These chemical compounds are formed when muscle meat (beef, pork, fish, or poultry) is grilled or smoked . The formation takes place when the fats or juices hit the fire, form in the flames and rise up to the food to adhere to the meat’s surface. How the meat is cooked (rare, medium or well-done) and the cooking method used plays a role as well.


When grilling meats, there is more potential for direct contact with the flame. Because of this, HCAs are more likely to form during the grilling process when meats are cooked at high temperatures (300 degrees +) or cooked to “well-done”.


PAHs have more potential to form when meats are smoked or charred, key elements for smoked meat, so limit the consumption of heavy charring.

It’s important to note, there has not been an definitive link between the consumption of these two chemicals and an increase of cancer for humans. However, it is better to error on the side of caution when consuming any kind of food with the potential risk of cancer. The good news is, there are ways to reduce the risk and still enjoy wood fired food!

Cooking Tips to Reduce the Risk

There are ways to cut back the risk of HCAs and PHAs forming and adhering to wood fired foods. The obvious one is to incorporate more vegetables and fruits into the grilling and smoking menu. Since these chemicals only form on muscle meats, the risk is eliminated right out of the gate!

However, nothing beats steak, pork, chicken or fish cooked over a wood burning fire.  The depth of flavor can not be duplicated with manufactured liquid smoke flavoring either! So, when considering how to grill or smoke your meat, follow these tips to minimize risk:

  • Marinate meat for at least 30 minutes. Studies show marinades act as barriers between meat and carcinogens.
  • Continually turn meat cooked over high heat to minimize length of exposure to direct flames.
  • Microwave meat prior to grilling to reduce time over the flames.
  • Remove charred portions of meat before eating.
  • Refrain from making gravy from the meat drippings.
  • Scrape down the grill when done to remove the remaining carcinogens on the grate for next time.

So fire up the grill or smoker! By following these tips, the ingestion of unhealthy elements in your meat can be kept to a minimum.

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Restaurants and residents in CT & NYC can enjoy the highest quality cooking wood for sale with convenient delivery to your home or business. Call Premier Firewood Company™ 203-866-4252 for more information on our firewood and delivery options today!

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