Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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PAHs are created when nearly any organic material, including wood and fat, is heated to the point that it begins to burn. Cooking over a smoky wood fire therefore deposits PAHs from the wood on meat. A charcoal fire is largely smokeless, but will create PAHs from fat if the fat is allowed to fall and burn on the coals, or if the fat ignites on the meat surface itself. Small quantities of PAHs can also be formed during high-temperature frying. The PAH hazard can be minimized by grilling over wood only when it has been reduced to coals, by leaving the grill uncovered so that soot and vapors can dissipate, by avoiding fat flareups, and by eating smoked meats only rarely.