Is Grilling with Wood Bad for You?

Is Grilling with Wood Bad for You

There’s nothing quite like the smoky flavor of grilled food, especially when it’s cooked over wood. But with recent concerns about the potential health risks of grilling with wood, many people are wondering if it’s still safe to enjoy this beloved cooking method.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the science behind grilling with wood, explore the potential health risks, and provide tips on how to grill safely.

Whether you’re a seasoned pit master or a beginner griller, you’ll find everything you need to know about the safety of grilling with wood in this comprehensive guide. So, grab your apron and let’s get grilling!

Grilling with Wood: What is it?

Grilling with wood involves cooking food over a fire fueled by wood. This technique is popular because it adds a smoky flavor to the food, making it taste delicious.

To grill with wood, you need to start a fire and then add wood to keep the fire burning. Once the fire has burned down to hot coals, you can start cooking your food. Wood grilling can be done on a grill, a smoker, or even over an open flame.

The Health Effects of Grilling with Wood

Inhalation of Smoke and Particulate Matter

One of the potential health risks of grilling with wood is inhaling smoke and particulate matter. When wood is burned, it creates smoke, which contains tiny particles that can be inhaled into the lungs. These particles can irritate the respiratory system and cause health problems.

The smoke from wood grilling contains carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These substances can cause respiratory problems, especially in people who have asthma or other lung conditions.

To minimize the risk of inhaling smoke and particulate matter, it is important to grill in a well-ventilated area. This means grilling outside, where the smoke can dissipate into the air.

It is also a good idea to avoid standing directly over the grill while it is in use. You can also use a hood or other type of ventilation system to remove the smoke from the grilling area.

Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Another potential health risk of grilling with wood is exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These are chemicals that are formed when organic matter, such as wood, is burned at high temperatures.

PAHs can be found in the smoke and soot produced by wood grilling. When food is cooked over a wood fire, it can become contaminated with these chemicals.

To minimize exposure to PAHs, it is important to use a clean-burning wood. Hardwoods like oak, hickory, and maple are good choices because they burn cleanly and produce less smoke.

You can also soak the wood chips or chunks in water for several hours before using them to reduce the amount of smoke they produce. Another way to reduce exposure to PAHs is to trim the fat from your meat before grilling, as PAHs tend to accumulate in fat.

Carcinogenic Effects of PAHs

PAHs have been linked to several health problems, including cancer. Studies have shown that exposure to PAHs can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, including lung, skin, bladder, and prostate cancer.

To reduce the risk of carcinogenic effects of PAHs, it is important to use a clean-burning wood and to avoid charring your food. When meat is charred, it can produce more PAHs. To avoid charring your food, you can use indirect heat to cook your food.

This means placing your food on a rack above the flames, rather than directly on the flames. You can also marinate your meat before grilling, as marinades have been shown to reduce the formation of PAHs.

Alternatives to Grilling with Wood

Grilling with wood can be a great way to add flavor to your food, but it also comes with potential health risks. If you’re looking for a safer alternative, there are a few options to consider. In this article, we’ll explore charcoal grilling, gas grilling, and electric grilling as alternatives to grilling with wood.

Charcoal Grilling

Charcoal grilling is a popular alternative to wood grilling because it still offers that smoky flavor, but with less potential for health risks.

Charcoal grills use charcoal briquettes as fuel, which are made from compressed charcoal dust and other ingredients like sawdust and starch. The briquettes are burned in a metal or ceramic grill, creating heat and smoke that cooks the food.

One potential downside to charcoal grilling is the formation of PAHs. Like wood grilling, charcoal grilling can create PAHs when fat drips onto the hot coals and creates smoke.

However, this can be minimized by using a clean-burning charcoal and trimming the fat from your meat before grilling. Additionally, using indirect heat and marinating your meat can help reduce the formation of PAHs.

Gas Grilling

Gas grilling is another popular alternative to wood grilling. Gas grills use propane or natural gas as fuel, which is burned in a grill with metal or ceramic burners.

The heat from the burners cooks the food, while a metal plate or lava rocks help distribute the heat evenly and create a smoky flavor.

One of the biggest benefits of gas grilling is that it produces less smoke and particulate matter than wood or charcoal grilling.

This can be especially beneficial if you have respiratory issues or allergies. Gas grilling also offers more control over the temperature, making it easier to cook food evenly.

Electric Grilling

Electric grilling is a third alternative to wood grilling that is becoming more popular. Electric grills use heating elements to cook the food, and can be used both indoors and outdoors.

They are often smaller and more portable than gas or charcoal grills, making them a good option for apartment balconies or small patios.

One of the benefits of electric grilling is that it produces no smoke or particulate matter, making it a good option for those with respiratory issues or living in apartments with strict fire codes.

Additionally, electric grills are easy to use and can be cleaned easily, making them a convenient option for those who want to grill without the hassle of charcoal or gas.


In conclusion, grilling with wood can be a fun and flavorful way to cook your food, but it comes with potential health risks. If you’re looking for a safer alternative, consider charcoal grilling, gas grilling, or electric grilling.

Each of these options offers its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to choose the one that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Regardless of which grilling method you choose, make sure to take precautions to minimize potential health risks and practice safe food handling techniques to avoid foodborne illnesses.