Is smoked meat healthy?

by 644 · April 30, 2013 at 2:40 AM

I have heard a lot of people say that smoked meat is bad for you and realize I have fallen into believing the Conventional Wisdom on that one. Is there any scientific basis to avoid smoked meats?

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16 Replies

18909 · May 05, 2010 at 4:29 PM

Smoked meat and fish do contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (quite nasty chemicals) produced from the incomplete combustion of the fuel being burnt. These are increased if the fat and juices are able to drip onto the fuel during the smoking. There are epidemiological links to several types of cancer particularly in populations that traditionally eat a lot of smoked meat or fish. Smoked meats also often contain high levels of salt.

There is good evidence of cooking hearths for about the last 400,000 years and it is likely that it has been longer but conclusive evidence has not survived. Cooking over an open fire produces much less exposure to smoke than deliberately smoking food. However people have most likely smoked foods for quite a while, although this not prove it is healthy. It is hard to evolve and adapt to something that only harms rarely and when people are old.

Despite all this any risk involved eating smoked meat or fish is probably quite small and mostly applies to regular high consumption, I wouldn't worry about it otherwise. I like a bit of smoked mackerel now and again.

4465 · May 04, 2010 at 9:03 PM

Nothing on earth could make me avoid smoked brisket or pork shoulder.

30 · December 01, 2011 at 3:59 AM

Smoking Seafood

By Simon Krasemann

A History of Smoke Preservation

FOODS HAVE BEEN PRESERVED BY SMOKE-CURING since before the dawn of recorded history. People in all cultures the world over have relied on the smoke-curing of fish and meat products for long-term storage.

It is important to make a distinction between smoking for preservation, and smoking for texture and flavour. Today the former is common in less developed countries where transportation and climate extremes may be a factor. The later is popular in developed countries where refrigeration and an integrated logistical infrastructure for the efficient transportation of perishables is in place.

In its simplest form smoking meat and fish is similar throughout the world depending on the end product desired. Preservation can be accomplished by first cutting the flesh into thin strips and then drying them slowly over a fire — or in the sun in northern climes).

Packed as dried smoked products, these can travel great distances and remain edible for long periods of time. In all these processes, drying is of paramount importance for preservation, because it is moisture in the flesh that permits bacterial activity and spoilage. Salt accelerates the removal of water and hence its widespread use as a traditional perservative. Further, the application of extracts from the smoke (phenols, etc.) retards the development of spoilage bacteria.

7936 · September 21, 2010 at 4:24 AM

How can anything SO GOOD be bad for you? :)

499 · March 06, 2013 at 12:17 AM

Just saw Alton Brown on Good Eats on Food Network making smoked salmon. Ok maybe not the best resource but they seem to do their homework and they said you can get more carcinogens from grilling methods than smoking methods.

77338 · May 26, 2011 at 5:58 PM

There is different ways of smoking. Which woods do you smoke? Smoke cold or hot? Which salt you use to lay the meat in before?

Its hard to answer this question. There is healthy smoked food. If its done in a good way.

45 · April 30, 2013 at 2:40 AM

I could never give up smoked salmon

0 · April 30, 2013 at 12:30 AM

Hot smoked/cooked foods on a gas barbecue? What are those barbecue stones made of? All that fat and by-products dripping on the stones and the burnt affects and the gasses and how many cleans the barbecue after the burn offs til the next fire up? All those sauses dripping and burning?

And the drinking water test results in your wells/taps are...?

The liquids in an IV drip are salt and what_? Dehydration is the lack of salts and sugars?

Rule of thumb for salt; If you can taste it,your body has enough of it! If you can't taste the salt,take a glass of water and keep adding salt til you can taste it? That was how much your body asked you for?

Top physically active athletes only drink water or do they drink the salts+ replacements-marathoners?

Eat,drink and be merry. Smile and laugh and be optimistic. Positive thinking can cure anything if your mind is strong enough to make it so?

Smoked Mackerel-Yummy yums!

Medium avatar
10077 · March 06, 2013 at 1:08 AM

Here's something to consider:


The dimethoxyphenols generated by hardwood smoking (alder) are strong antioxidants. The implication is that they could be a health benefit rather than a detriment. This article also discusses the low level of carcinogenic PAH's in smoke from burning below 800C. Food is smoked with smoldering wood, well below 800C.

20 · March 05, 2013 at 10:24 PM

What about a little liquid smoke every now and again? Would that be better, worse, the same or are people unsure for of that as far as health compared to smoking?

0 · February 14, 2013 at 1:59 AM

I started eating healthy to loose weight ...I ate quiet a bit smoked salmon every single day.. I love the stuff..I wanted to get all protein I could get....along with all the other healthy foods... I started my new healthy eating plan on Jan.14th ,2012 .My goal was to loose 1 lb a week ... I lost the weight slowly just as I planned. In Oct 2012 I got deathly sick and had to be hospitalized ...I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, Colitis and Diverticulitis ... I just wonder if all that smoked salmon was the culprit? The reason I am in here reading about the smoked foods is because I bought my husband an electric smoker cooker ...he maade some ribs and chicken...I had the ribs ....I got sick again ..cause some of my symptoms to return... ..I've been eating healthier than I ever have in my life...I lost 45 lbs..which was great but now I'm not sure if I need to leave Smoked meats completely out of my diet... another call to my Dr tomorrow...I am so sick of being sick...wish I could figure out what and what not to eat and still eat healthy.......

7249 · July 23, 2012 at 7:57 PM

Smoked meat is probably better for you than anything else you might want to smoke.

289 · July 23, 2012 at 7:45 PM

I personally wouldn't put too much stock in dietary studies performed in a modernized society, with all its chemicals and industrial methods. There are way too many confounding factors that usually aren't accounted for. (I would be interested to see a study done on a non-industrialized people group, though.)

Even if it can be shown that there are so-called carcinogens in smoked meat (or other foods for that matter), it tells you almost nothing in isolation. Having the context of a wholistic lifestyle is the important thing. However, setting up that context could be very difficult.

My personal view regarding smoked food is that whatever substances that cause cancer in high concentrations applied to a lab rat, probably won't do you much harm if your diet as a whole is healthy. I.e., healthy meat from healthy non-diseased animals, which lived a life as free from human intervention as possible; and fresh veggies with minimal man-made chemicals.

Here's an analogy to put things in perspective. CW says you should wear sunscreen and cover yourself up because the UV rays will damage your skin and cause skin cancer. Well, in a certain (ignorant) way they're right. In the context of a malnourished body, skin cancer may indeed be very likely. But given that you are well-nourished, your body can heal itself (see http://www.marksdailyapple.com/8-natural-ways-to-prevent-a-sunburn-and-sunscreens-not-one-of-them/, including some of the comments that validate the post). The curious thing is that CW has also started to realize that we need some sun to synthesize vitamin D. Are we having fun yet, CW-ers?

At the end of the day, the stress from over-thinking your food could be worse than the alleged toxins.

0 · May 26, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Well damn, guess I'll start eating my pork chops raw.

0 · September 20, 2010 at 6:42 PM

Whether it's healthy or not, it's a guilty pleasure

4888 · May 05, 2010 at 9:34 AM

Until the invention of the domestic oven - not so long ago really - all meat would have been cooked over a fire of some sort - and so been smoked to some extent. I don't know when humans began to cook their food, but it must be over a hundred thousand years? So plenty of time for us to die out if wasn't a healthy thing to do...

I think if there is a problem with commercial smoked meats, it will be the salt, chemicals and not grass reared.

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