Grilled vs Baked: Which is Healthier? 

Shandra Martinez

| 4 min read

Midsection of family outdoors on garden barbecue, grilling.
There’s always been a little bit of debate among healthy eating advocates when it comes to what’s best when preparing certain kinds of food. Decades ago, nutrition experts urged people to step away from frying their food and instead switch to grilling or baking proteins like chicken, pork, fish and beef. But when it comes to grilled vs. baked, which option is really healthier for you?
Both grilling and baking/roasting in an oven are high-heat methods that can cook meats and vegetables quickly and safely. And both are typically healthier than deep-frying foods, which can add more fat, calories, unhealthy oils and other ingredients that are not good for your heart health. While it may come down to taste and personal preference, there are some differences when it comes to grilling vs. baking. You can see the pros and cons listed below. Overall, baking and roasting looks to be the healthiest way to prepare meats and vegetables because those methods come with fewer health risks than grilling.

Marinades and sauces

First, it’s important to note that grilling and baking typically involve some kind of marinade, sauce or basting liquids. Steak sauce, butter, oil, barbecue sauce and even vinaigrettes are popular go-to items to add moisture to grilled or baked foods. While these can all impart great flavor, they also add fat, sugar and extra calories to any grilled or baked dish. So if you’re the type of grillmaster or cook who likes to add lots of extras, you’ll want to figure that into any question of which is the healthiest cooking method for you.

Pros and cons of baked foods

Roasting is usually a method used for cuts of beef or pork, while baking in a pan is used for fish or chicken. While tests have shown there’s minimal loss of nutrients like Vitamin C while cooking meats in an oven, other research has shown that cooking meats in an oven at high temperatures for more than a half hour can lead to a loss of about 40% of the B vitamins that the food originally contained. These are lost when juices are released from the meat.

Pros and cons of grilled foods

A good backyard grill-out can have friends and neighbors lining up with plates in hand. Grilling is a hugely popular pastime in Michigan, especially in the summer months. This high-heat, low-moisture form of cooking means everything from steaks and burgers to chicken and fish can be fixed quickly and with a nice, seared flavor. But this kind of high heat also brings in some health risks, research has shown.

Cancer risks

Certain chemicals known as HCAs and PAHs can form in or on meats that are grilled over an open flame, according to the National Cancer Institute. What does this mean for those who eat these meats? Studies have shown that beef, poultry, pork and fish that has been grilled can all produce these chemicals. When eaten, these can trigger changes in a person’s DNA, which can then increase the risk for developing certain kinds of cancers.
Here’s a breakdown on these chemicals:
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs): These form when meat is cooked at high temperatures, especially in meat cooked at more than 300 degrees. Meats that are well-done, grilled or barbecued all have been found to have high concentrations of HCAs.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): These form when juices or fat from cooking meat drip into a fire or onto a hot surface, creating smoke and flames. The smoke, which contains the PAHs, then clings to the meat’s surface.

Safety tips

You can reduce your exposure to HCAs and PAHs by taking these precautions:
  • Avoid prolonged cooking times.
  • Don’t directly expose meat to an open flame or hot metal surface over high heat.
  • Flip meat often when cooking over a heat source.
  • Remove charred portions from meat.
Photo credit: Getty Images

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