Beer and Smoke

0404ctt beer grilling

Potentially dangerous chemical compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can be reduced in grilled meat, like this tasty number, by simply marinating in beer before cooking, new research says. Credit: Mike; Flickr Creative Commons License. 

If the weather is starting to warm where you are, and you’re considering firing up the grill, I may have good news for your weekend—the latest science says go ahead and grab a beer.

New research, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and presented at the recent annual American Chemical Society meeting, suggests that using that beer as a meat marinade before grilling can reduce levels of potentially dangerous chemicals that form during high-temperature cooking.

Okay, you must be thinking this is a late April Fools’ Day joke—last week I told you it’s okay to go ahead and nosh on chocolate, and now I’m adding beer to the good list, too? No joke—I have the science to prove it. And it may be no coincidence that beer, like chocolate, has a long history with our society.

0404ctt beer grilling PAH lo res

Typical polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, including (clockwise from top left) benz(e)acephenanthrylene, pyrene, and dibenz(ah)anthracene. Credit: Inductiveload; Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Those previously mentioned dangerous chemicals are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and they have a bad rap for hanging around negative health effects. PAHs are abundant in the environment, atmosphere, and universe, but also in the food we eat. PAHs are particularly prevalent in “smoked and charcoal-grilled products (such as fatty meat and meat products grilled under prolonged or severe conditions),” the authors write in the paper.

(For more PAH info, check out this factsheet (pdf) from the US EPA or this entry in the Toxic Substances Portal from the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.)

The researchers, a group from Spain and Portugal, smartly married their research interests with their culinary quests and fired up the grill in the name of scientific inquiry. To begin the experiment, they marinated pork loin steaks in beer for four hours in the refrigerator [at a scientific meat–marinade ratio of 1:1 (wt/vol)]. The researchers tested three different beer marinades—light pilsner beer, nonalcoholic pilsner beer, and black beer.

0404ctt dark beer lo res

Hooray, dark beer! Credit: Nick Olejniczak; Flickr Creative Commons License.

After marinating, they cooked the meat on a charcoal grill to a well-done internal temperature of 75°C. Although I’m hoping there were at least leftovers for them to enjoy, the authors collected samples of each pork loin, homogenized them, and extracted PAHs. Using liquid chromatography analysis, their results show that marinated meat has reduced levels of total PAHs. Black beer was the winner, as it was able to slash total PAHs in the cooked meat by more than 50 percent.

While the authors admit they’re not yet sure why exactly the marinade works, they did show that black beer by itself can act as an antioxidant to get rid of free radicals (reactive molecules with unpaired electrons), which I take to be good news in its own right. The paper also includes a handy table summarizing previous research on various meat-marinade combos that shows that marinating meat, regardless of the marinade (except for oil alone), can reducing PAHs in cooked meat.

So if you’re a carnivore, crack open a beer, get your marinade ready, and fire up the grill this weekend—and don’t forget the dark chocolate for dessert—just as a toast to your good health.

The paper is “Effect of beer marinades on formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in charcoal-grilled pork” (DOI: 10.1021/jf404966w).

If you’re unsure which brand to grab and want to follow geographic norms, a new book may be able to help. The Geography of Beer includes a chapter on American beer preferences, broken down by region, that was mined from “beer space” data posted to Twitter. 

And speaking of adult beverages, do you know how many bubbles are in the typical glass of champagne? New scientific calculations may give you a surprising answer.

Disclosure: I have no affiliation with nor do I endorse Red Stripe beer—I am just borrowing their tagline!

Feature image credit: Mike on Flickr.