Chicken Kebab
Experts in ELLICSR Kitchen suggest grilling smaller cut meats like kebabs and colourful veggies for optimum nutrients and flavour. (Photo: John ‘K’, Flickr)

We've been warned of the dangers of grilling: carcinogens from charred meat cause cancer, or too much red meat can lead to heart disease. While there's certainly truth to what's being said, it doesn't mean you should stay away from your BBQ all summer long.

In fact, if done properly there are a number of health benefits in barbecued meats. Wellness Chef Geremy Capone and Registered Dietitian Christy Brissette of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre's ELLICSR Kitchen set the record straight and give the skinny on healthy grilling.

The skinny on BBQ'd meats and veggies

Incorporating grilled, fresh and organic lean meats into your summer diet will give your body the protein and nutrients it needs to stay energized. This is especially important if you're leading a fit, active lifestyle. The amino acids you need to build muscle and repair tissue can be found in a 3-oz serving of red meat.

Rather than putting that lean-ground beef on a bun, our ELLICSR foodies suggest you try a lettuce wrap – and don't forget to add a side of veggies. Throw some peppers, zucchini and eggplant on the BBQ with some herbs for a flavourful mix. Unlike boiling vegetables, grilling and roasting maintains most of the nutrients and is a healthy option – as long as you don't add too much butter or olive oil.

Chef Geremy and RD Christy encourage you to BBQ this summer, but want you to keep in mind their 5 tips for healthy grilling to ensure you're getting the most of your meats and veggies:

5 tips for healthy grilling

Go for lean, organic meats and small cuts

Smaller cuts like kabobs reduce grilling time, which reduces exposure to carcinogens.

Red meat: Go for sirloin steak, roast tenderloin, eye of round steak, organic lean-ground beef or lamb skewers​

HOW TO MAKE IT: Grilled Lamb Skewers with Green Garlic, Lime & Cilantro Marinade​

Light meat: Opt for organic chicken breast, ground turkey or chicken, or fish fillet.

HOW TO MAKE IT: Jamaican Jerk Chicken & Jerk Garden Eggplant

Make your own marinade

Marinating infuses your food with flavour and more importantly stops carcinogens from forming by up to 90% when grilling.

Allow meat and vegetables to marinate in the refrigerator before putting it on the BBQ, but use glass bake ware to do this rather than aluminum containers. If there's an acid (vinegar or citrus) component in the marinade, the aluminum will leach into your food.

HOW TO MAKE IT: Cacao Spice Rub & Tomatillo Pineapple Salsa (great on grilled chicken breast!)

Bonus: This recipe will make you happy…literally. Cacao is said to increase the level of serotonin in the brain!

Go slow and low

When meat is cooked at high temperatures, especially when well-done or charred, a variety of hazardous chemicals form. After our body processes these chemicals, they can bind to our DNA and cause damage that may lead to cancer.

Cooking meats and veggies at a slower pace and with a low flame keeps burning and charring to a minimum, reducing risk of carcinogens.

Take extra precaution by cutting off any visible fat before you throw it on the BBQ, and use tinfoil to reduce dripping on the charcoal, which causes flare-ups that produce PAHs – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – another class of carcinogens.

Avoid processed and fatty meats like hamburgers, hot dogs, sausage and rib-eye steak

Did you know one 3-oz rib-eye steak contains 500 calories and 50 grams of fat?

These meats have been shown to increase the risk of colorectal cancer. So, the taste may not be worth the health risk.

Cook at appropriate temperatures

The only way to kill bacteria such a E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria is to use the appropriate temperature when cooking meat. Use a digital thermometer when cooking to ensure that food reaches a safe internal temperature, outlined in the chart below by Health Canada.

Health Canada




Beef, veal and lamb (pieces and whole cuts)

     Medium rare
     Well done

63 °C (145 °F)
71 °C (160 °F)
77 °C (170 °F)

Pork (pieces and whole cuts)

71 °C (160 °F)

Poultry (for example, chicken, turkey, duck)


74 °C (165 °F)
85 °C (185 °F)

Ground meat and meat mixtures (for example, burgers,
sausages, meatballs, meatloaf, casseroles)

     Beef, veal, lamb and pork

71 °C (160 °F)
74 °C (165 °F)

Egg dishes

74 °C (165 °F)



Others (for example, hot dogs, stuffing, leftovers, seafood)

74 °C (165 °F)

About ELLICSR kitchen

The ELLICSR Kitchen is a cooking and nutrition program at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre designed to support people in eating well before, during and after cancer treatment.

The kitchen hosts a series of dynamic healthy cooking classes led by chef Geremy and Registered Dietitian Christy. Demonstrations take place the first three Thursdays of the month from 12:15 – 1:15 p.m. in ELLICSR: Health, Wellness & Cancer Survivorship Centre in the basement of Toronto General Hospital (BCS-021). The Patient Education and Survivorship program is supported by the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. 

Can't make it? You can catch the cooking show webisodes on ELLICSR Kitchen's YouTube Channel​.

For more summer recipes, visit ELLICSR Kitc​hen's archive.

Back to Top