Is Aluminum Foil Safe For Grilling? Here’s What You Need To Know
Find out if it'll pose a risk to the environment — or your health.
It’s almost summertime, which means backyard cookouts and long days spent in the sunshine grilling up burgers, hot dogs, and steaks. An outdoor grill infuses your meat with delicious smoky flavor, and washing it down with a cold beer or lemonade makes for the perfect meal. If you’re like most Americans, you probably use aluminum foil for easier cooking and clean-up; but is it actually safe for grilling? While this kitchen staple is convenient for barbecues, it has some potential downsides when it comes to the environment — and possibly, your health. Keep reading to learn about the risks of grilling with aluminum foil.
What is aluminum foil?
First, a little about this useful product’s history. Aluminum is a thin-rolled sheet of alloyed aluminum — 98.5 percent aluminum, to be exact, with the balance primarily from iron and silicon to give strength and puncture resistance. In the production process, the molten alloy is rolled thin and solidified between large, water-cooled chill rollers. Aluminum foil was first produced commercially in the US in 1913 for product packaging. (It was used to wrap Life Savers, candy bars, and chewing gum.) Now, you can find a roll in just about any household, as it’s extremely helpful in covering and storing foods. It also makes a great pet toy, if you crumple it up into a ball and drop it near your cat. But should you use it on your grill?
Is aluminum foil bad for the environment?
Aluminum foil is great for convenience, but it’s not so nice to planet earth. That’s because it’s only recyclable when it isn’t coated in food residue, which is the opposite of its condition after grilling. You could, of course, rinse your foil and try to wipe it perfectly clean — but that isn’t convenient or efficient, which is why we used the foil in the first place. The result is that the food- and grease-covered aluminum we drop in the recycling bin not only ends up in a landfill, but it also contaminates the other recyclables in your bin.
For a more sustainable — and no less convenient — alternative, the pros at The Daily Meal recommend a reusable grill basket. Similar to the fry baskets at McDonald’s, they keep food contained so that it doesn’t fall through your grill’s grates. The baskets help with cleaning up, too, since you won’t need to scrape bits of meat off the grill and can simply toss the basket in your dishwasher. One to try: Weber’s Stainless Steel Grill Basket (Buy from Home Depot, $34.98).
Does grilling with aluminum foil pose health risks?
Because aluminum is one of the most abundant metals on earth, small amounts are naturally occurring in most foods — including fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, grains, and dairy products, according to Healthline. Some of the aluminum you unknowingly end up ingesting also comes from processed food additives, like preservatives, coloring agents, anti-caking agents, and thickeners. Commercially produced foods with food additives are more likely to contain aluminum than home-cooked foods — so you’ve already gotten a healthy head-start by making a meal yourself.
The good news: Your body only absorbs very small amounts of most aluminum you ingest, so it’s rarely considered harmful. Still, cooking with aluminum foil could increase the aluminum content in your food. Studies show that aluminum foil, cooking utensils, and containers can all leach aluminum into food. (A study published in the journal Meat Science, for example, found that cooking red meat in aluminum foil could increase its aluminum content by between 89 and 378 percent.) The amount of “leaching,” or aluminum that passes into your food when cooking with aluminum foil, will be greater if you:
- Cook at higher temperatures
- Cook with acidic foods, such as tomatoes, cabbage, or rhubarb
- Use salts and spices in your cooking
However, as Healthline concludes, there is currently no strong evidence linking the use of aluminum foil to an increased risk of disease.
The Bottom Line
While cooking with aluminum foil can increase the amount of aluminum in your food, the amounts should be small enough that they pass harmlessly through your body. Researchers have deemed cooking with aluminum foil safe. Still, if you want to help save the earth — the US is quickly running out of landfill space — you should buy a grill basket. Then, check out our stories on best practices for grilling vegetables, juicy steak, chicken, and fish or other seafood.
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