When deciding how to prepare your fish, steak, or chicken, most of us assume that grilling our protein is a safe and healthy way to avoid adding fat to our meals. However, a new study published in the journal Food Chemistry found that grilling meat on unready charcoal may increase the risk of contaminating meat with cancer-causing chemicals.

The study, conducted at the Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research (CEFSR) at the University of Putra Malaysia, identified the contamination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) by thermally treated high-protein foods, such as charcoal grilled meats. This is due to the direct exposure of the protein to the PAHs from smoke produced through incomplete combustion of the thermal agents.

The study looked at two alternative methods of grilling to determine if they would improve the safely of eating grilled meat. The first method was to preheat (steam and microwave) the meats prior to charcoal grilling, and the second method was to wrap the meat (in aluminum or banana leaf) prior to charcoal grilling. The results revealed good news for grill lovers: No carcinogenic PAHs were detected in the samples after both methods. Here are some ways to avoid exposing meat to these compounds at home:

Avoid Flare Ups and Charring
Cut off visible fat before putting meat on the grill. Flip the meat to avoid burning, and keep it approximately six inches away from the flame. Covering the meat with the banana leaf will help protect it from flare-ups as well.

Use a Marinade
Using marinades about 30 minutes prior to cooking can reduce the amount of cancer causing compounds that are formed in the meat. Using lemon or vinegar marinades works the best; avoid sugary marinades which can burn easily and promote charring.

Precook your Meat
Precooking your meat in a microwave oven or stove-top was shown in the research study to greatly reduce the amount of PAHs in the meat. The meat will be on the grill for less amount of time and has a decreased chance of exposure.

Look for Lean Meats
Choose leaner cuts of meat, which cook faster and have less fat for leaking onto the coals. Using smaller pieces of meat, such as kabobs, to reduce grill time can also help. It is okay to grill veggies and fruits because they do not contain any protein or a risk of forming the PAHs.