MU Extension MU Extension       University of Missouri    ●    Columbia    ●    Kansas City       Missouri S&T     ●    St. Louis - Food and Fitness


Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce


Grilling adds flavor, but avoid charring to reduce carcinogens


Veggie and meat shishkabobs on the grillSummer is a great time to gather family and friends and fire up the grill. The intense, direct heat of grilling gives food a wonderful crusty texture and flavor that we love.


“We can thank the Maillard reaction for the great grilling flavor,” says Pam Duitsman, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health specialist. “This happens when heat, proteins and sugars in food react in a process to create hundreds of different flavor compounds. These compounds then interact to form even more nuanced flavors and aromas, giving each food distinctive flavors.”


The Maillard reaction can occur on any piece of food, not just meats, depending on the food’s protein and carbohydrate content. This is why grilled vegetables are so sweet and delicious.


“If your family doesn’t like vegetables, try them grilled,” says Duitsman. “Carrots and other root vegetables, for instance, have lots of complex carbohydrates, so they will undergo extensive caramelization when grilled.”


The Maillard reaction can develop when food is cooked at lower temperatures over a longer period, but it really kicks in above 300 degrees Fahrenheit.


“It may take meat hours to brown at 250 degrees in the oven as deeply as 15 minutes on a grill, and the mixture of flavor compounds will differ. As temperatures increase, caramelization becomes more pronounced, intensifying the flavor,” Duitsman says.


Unfortunately, at high temperatures, proteins in meat, chicken and fish can naturally form carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).


“This is especially likely if the meat is charred, which reduces the overall quality and taste of the food,” says Duitsman. “Luckily, charring can be easily avoided.”


Tips to avoid charring:


  • Thaw meat before grilling so that it cooks evenly. Trim the fat and remove the skin from the meat before cooking.
  • Marinating meat for at least 30 minutes before grilling has been shown to reduce the formation of HCAs.
  • Cook foods near the outside of the flame rather than directly over it, and keep a spray bottle of water handy for flare-ups.
  • Flip your meat frequently and use a thermometer to monitor internal temperatures of food, to avoid undercooking or overcooking and charring.
  • Try pre-cooking meat partially and finish with grilling so there will be less grill time, reducing the amount of possible carcinogens.
  • If meat is charred, scrape off those areas before eating.


For those who love to grill and plan to do it often this season, be sure you are well equipped:


  • Use long tongs to turn solid food. Forks will pierce food and cause the juices to be lost.
  • Use spatulas for turning foods such as burgers and fish so the food holds together. A large spatula with a stiff thin blade works well.
  • Keep a squirt bottle with water handy to put out flare-ups and reduce char on food.
  • Use vegetable cooking spray on grill racks for easy clean-up.
  • Heat the grill for 10-15 minutes before adding food.
  • Keep about three-fourths of an inch between foods to ensure even cooking.
  • To avoid overcooking, remove each food item when it’s done and keep it warm while remaining food continues to cook. Always have an extra clean plate or platter handy. Don’t put cooked meat on the same plate that held raw meat.
  • Dry spice rubs can be used to boost flavor, but sticky sauces should be added just before serving since they will char easily.


Experiment with grilling this summer! In addition to the standard burgers, steaks and chicken, try vegetables, fruit, pizza and fish on the grill.



Grilled Asparagus and Shrimp Quinoa Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette


Grilled Asparagus and Shrimp Quinoa Salad with Lemon VinaigretteServes: 4



  • 2 cups fresh asparagus, large spears, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 yellow or red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (14 ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 12 ounces fresh or frozen jumbo or large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cups dry quinoa, cooked according to directions


Lemon Vinaigrette:

  • 3 tablespoons fresh or bottled lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper



  1. Place vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and whisk; set aside.
  2. Cut vegetables as directed.
  3. Heat grill and grilling tray.
  4. Place vegetables and shrimp in a large bowl; add about 1/3 of the vinaigrette (about 3 tablespoons) and toss.
  5. Spread shrimp-vegetable mixture over hot grilling tray.
  6. Grill, turning shrimp and vegetables, until the flesh of the shrimp is an opaque color (about 5-6 minutes); remove from grill.
  7. Serve grill mixture over cooked quinoa and drizzle with vinaigrette.


Nutrition Facts:
Calories: 460
Calories from fat: 140
Total fat: 16g
Saturated fat: 2g
Trans fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 115mg
Sodium: 420mg
Total carbohydrate: 51g
Fiber: 7g
Protein: 29g
Vitamin A: 15%
Vitamin C: 90%
Calcium: 10%
Iron: 35%




University of Missouri logo links to

Site Administrator:
Copyright  ADA  Equal Opportunity

MissouriFamilies is produced by the College of Human Environmental Sciences,
Extension Division, University of Missouri

Last update: Monday, May 22, 2017