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How to Protect Yourself from BBQ Smoke

smoked hamburger tips and tricks

If you had to describe “barbecue” to someone who had never experienced it before, you might use words like “affordable,” “enjoyable,” and “delicious.” And yet, although you may call it “fun for the whole family,” barbecue is something that may pose a risk to your health. And it does this in the form of BBQ smoke.

After centuries of industrialization, we’ve become familiar with the trade-off that comes with burning fossil fuels. But even though we’d never have thought something we do in our backyards could harm ourselves or our families, the truth is more serious than we realize.

With this short article, we’ll examine:

  • The dangers of BBQ smoke
  • The health impact of different grill methods
  • The difference between different fuel types
  • What you can do to protect yourself and your family

The Dangers of BBQ Smoke

Any self-respecting BBQ enthusiast knows better than to install an outdoor grill or smoker inside their house. All the same, even though it’s taken for granted that they emit lots of smoke, many home users are content to stand next to their grills and smokers for an extended time. This is not a good idea because you are exposing yourself to the dangers of BBQ smoke.

BBQ smoke contains a high level of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are known to cause DNA mutations, respiratory disease, and even lung cancer. Together with heterocyclic amines (HCAs), these chemical side effects are commonly found in meat that has been roasted and charred. 

Previous, this blog had talked about the increased risk of cancer associated with eating well-done meat. However, as it turns out, BBQ smoke may pose a higher risk to your health due to its effect on your skin.

Researchers at Jinan University in China discovered that even though PAH absorption for BBQ participants is usually through the BBQ they eat, a substantial amount came as a result of absorption through skin and inhalation. What’s more, they discovered that clothing doesn’t help protect you from the effects of smoke from a BBQ.

tomahawk steak BBQ

The Difference Between BBQ Setups

Backyard grills come in different varieties in order to perform different functions. As such, it should be no surprise that these different grill methods pose different risks when it comes to BBQ smoke:

  • BBQ: Due to having hotter temperatures from using a closing grill hood, using a BBQ may result in the creation of more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can have an adverse impact on your health. However, the lid can help minimize your exposure to BBQ smoke.
  • Grilling: An open grill hood can cut down on VOCs, but increase your exposure to smoke.
  • Smoker: Prolonged exposure can increase a food’s exposure to VOCs. Some smokers are equipped with chimneys that help direct smoke away from the user.

The Difference Between BBQ Fuels

Some BBQers have die-hard preferences when it comes to the fuel they use for their barbecue. Although each type of fuel offers different advantages for their BBQ, they also come with their own disadvantages when it comes to the smoke they give off.

  • Charcoal: The worst fuel when it comes to possible health risks. Charcoal emits HCAs, PAHs, smoke, and ash, making an impact on the environment far beyond your backyard.
  • Wood: Despite their sweet smokiness, woods like hickory and mesquite can emit harmful chemicals like  PAHs, benzene, acrolein, and formaldehyde when burned.
  • Natural gas & propane: This “green” alternative to traditional BBQ fuels releases far fewer emissions than other fuels.
Grilling BBQ Chicken Wings

How to Protect Yourself from BBQ Smoke

To keep yourself and your family safe from the adverse effects of smoke from a barbecue, try using these tips:

  • Change Clothes: Remove and wash smoke-exposed clothes after barbecuing.
  • Open Lid: Grill with an open hood so that BBQ smoke can disperse.
  • Use a Thermometer: Monitor temperatures to prevent your grill from becoming too hot. You can use instant-read thermometers for fast-cooking foods like burgers, or meat thermometers with probes for food that need extended cooking time like brisket and baby back ribs.  
  • Don’t Eat Burned Food: Don’t eat burned BBQ food that has been charred and blackened.
  • Don’t Cook Burned Food: Flip meat often to avoid burning your meat.
  • Pre-Cook Your Meat: Cook your meat before grilling to reduce its time cooking at high temperatures.
  • Purchase and Cook Leaner Meat: This will cut down on fat drippings. 
  • Switch Fuels: Consider using environmentally-friendly fuels like propane and natural gas.

Final Thoughts

Throughout human history, BBQ has been an important ritual for people to converge and share good food. Even though exposure to smoke from a barbecue isn’t good for you, we can be proactive and take steps to minimize this risk and keep ourselves safe. 

We hope these words have been helpful to you. Stay healthy, and enjoy barbecuing!


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