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charcoal grilling asthma

Is Charcoal Grilling Bad for People with Asthma?

It’s summer! Many people look forward to warmer weather, longer days, and sunshine. I, however, do not enjoy summer; the heat and humidity can trigger my asthma and bug bites make me itch like crazy!

One popular summer activity is grilling food and/or attending a barbecue. I have heard that grilling is good for you and I have heard that grilling is bad for you. Of course, the smoke and aromas from grilling can irritate your lungs, but is grilling actually a healthier way to eat? Let’s look at the pros and cons of grilling.

Grilling is a healthy way to prepare some foods

Grilling (and smoking) can certainly be a healthy way to cook foods if you choose healthy foods to begin with. You don’t need butter, there’s no batter or added coating, and olive oil is optional. Grilling always imparts delicious flavor. Also, who doesn’t love seeing those grill marks on their food? Vegetables, fruit, and fish are all healthy options for the grill. Grilled pineapple? Delicious.

However, sausages, bratwursts, hot dogs, and steaks are grilling favorites. They contain high amounts of calories, fat, and nitrates – which are not the healthiest choices (nitrates can definitely trigger asthma).

Charcoal and wood grills or smokers burn “dirty”

Both charcoal and wood-burning grills (or smokers) are considered “dirty” because they create tiny soot particles that not only pollute the air, but can deposit deep into your lungs and cause irritation. Propane grills are better for your lungs, and natural gas grills will burn the cleanest.

Remember to stand to the side of the grill when you open the cover of any grill. The smoke, heat, and aromas can be overpowering.

Charcoal grilling meat creates carcinogens

Hamburgers and steaks are also a grilling staple. However, when the fat drips down from the meat into the grill (especially onto charcoal), cancer-causing chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAHs) are released. When meats are cooked at high temperatures they naturally produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs, also found in cigarette smoke), which are also not good for you. Using thick BBQ sauces with sugar and charring your meat will increase the HCAs, so keep the flames low and avoid commercial sauces.

Science has not yet determined what level of exposure to these chemicals is dangerous, but it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Marinades increase flavor and reduce harmful compounds. A study by the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that steaks marinated overnight in turmeric and garlic marinade had reduced harmful compounds by half when cooked for 15 minutes. Herbs such as rosemary and mint brushed on beef also significantly reduced HCA levels.1

Tips for healthier grilling to lessen carcinogens

Avoid using lighter fluid and stay upwind from the grill smoke. Keep the flames low to avoid charring. Use a spray bottle with water to calm flames. Marinate meats for a few hours in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, oregano, salt, and pepper. Trim the excess fat off of meat to avoid it from dripping into the flames, and cook to medium instead of well done. You can also cook meat in aluminum foil packets to avoid charring and dripping.

Do you avoid grilling due to your asthma? Let us know how you manage your asthma during BBQ season in the comments below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Weil A. Grilling meat and cancer. Accessed July 2019.


  • Huronwoman
    6 months ago

    I usually stay in the house until dinner time is over. Unfortunately, I live in a resort area and masks don’t work for me. Sometimes, it feels like all I do is avoid triggers. I’d rather be safe than sorry

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    6 months ago

    Hi Huronwoman, and thanks for joining in the conversation here. I would tend to agree with you – do whatever is necessary to protect yourself from triggers. When it comes to this condition, it is always better to err on the side of caution, Keep up the good work! We appreciate your input. Leon (site moderator)

  • KaraOhki
    6 months ago

    Trying to find a place to sit downwind at a barbecue can be a challenge. Then again, I don’t eat hamburgers, hot dogs or steak so I probably am not there. I grew up in a NY apartment and my family never developed an interest in BBQ cooking even after we moved.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    6 months ago

    Hi KaraOhki and thanks for joining in the conversation.It sounds like you have the barbecuing experience under control and, you don’t miss it either! That must go a long way towards managing this condition. Leon (site moderator)

  • cathie
    7 months ago

    One of the concerns I have with summer BBQ is the marinades and sauces that are used. Almost all of the commercial ready made sauces contain sodium benzoate which is an immediate trigger for my asthma and many other asthmatics I know as well. I have to be careful with a lot of the foods served at a BBQ or summer party due to this preservative.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi cathie and thanks for joining in the conversation. You must feel good knowing your triggers! It enables you to participate while keeping watch to protect yourself. Keep up the good work! We appreciate your input. Leon (site moderator)

  • Shellzoo
    7 months ago

    I use a charcoal grill and sometimes it does irritate the airway but I do my best to stay out of the way of the smoke. I like camping and cooking over a campfire too. I really love a grilled steak but only use the grill once or twice a month. I have my Ventolin if needed but most of the time I am careful enough that it is not a problem.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi Shellzoo, and thanks for chiming in on this particular topic. Glad to hear you are able to enjoy this by taking the proper precautions. Enjoy the weekend! Leon (site moderator)

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