Guide to the Health Risks of Grilling Mats
BBQ mats can really save food. In addition to minimizing cleanup and loss of some meat, fish or vegetables through the grill, the even surface of the grilling mat ensures your food is cooked evenly.
They’re also great for grilling delicate foods like salmon, scallops, shrimp or small vegetables. Plus, it allows you to use less oil thanks to their non-stick properties.
There’s little to hate about grilling mats, but one burning question remains: Are grilling mats safe? What, if any, are the potential grill mat health risks? After all, they look almost like plastic, and they’re used at high temperatures.
The truth is that barbecue mats are generally safe. But only if used correctly.
Read on to learn more about why baking mats can be toxic, and the possible health risks that come with using them.
What are BBQ mats made of?
Usually made of fiberglass cloth, baking mats are sheets coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE, the same material used in nonstick pans and Teflon cookware, is now FDA approved and considered non-toxic.
However, misuse can make them harmful. PTFE-coated grill mats are said to release toxic fumes at high temperatures.
The safety of Teflon cookware has been debated over the years. But all studies have found that the real danger comes from a chemical basis called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is often used in the manufacture of PTFE.
What is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)?
PFOA, also known as C8, is used as a catalyst for the preparation of fluoropolymers such as PTFE and is a major source of non-stick kitchen tools.
However, according to T-Fal, a well-known French manufacturer of cookware and small appliances, PFOA is gradually burned off during the manufacturing process, leaving only harmless amounts in the final product.
PFOA is considered a pollutant and has the potential to be a health concern because it can persist in the human body for long periods of time.
PFOA is considered a toxic substance under the management of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2003. Subsequently, the EPA asked all major cookware companies to stop using PFOA in their products.
Therefore, most reputable manufacturers of non-stick coatings make sure to avoid PFOA at all costs. You will often find labels that say “PFOA free”; this means that the chemical was not used in the manufacturing process of this nonstick kitchen cookware.
What are the health risks of PFOA?
According to experts, increased exposure to PFOA may lead to certain cancers and increase the risk of developing tumors. Mainly present in the liver, testes, breast and pancreas.
But even before PFOA was eliminated, non-stick cookware wasn’t a significant source of PFOA exposure because it was mostly burned off during manufacturing, or in very small amounts. So the link between cancer and tumor risk is just speculation.
The long-term effects of PFOA and similar chemicals are largely unknown, and experts say only high levels of exposure to PFOA directly contribute to the risk of cancer and tumors.
Since all Teflon products are PFOA-free, the major health risks of exposure to PFOA are no longer a big concern.
Grilling mats are considered as safe as Teflon pans. There are no inherent dangers when using them, but like most products, they do carry a small risk. So the concept of a safe nonstick pan is more about practice and use than about the specific material from which the pan is made.
A significant health risk due to unsafe practices is flu-like symptoms when inhaling fumes from overheated Teflon-coated pans. This is called polymer fume heat.
Polymer smoke heat
Polymer smog fever, also known as Teflon fever, consists of temporary flu-like symptoms including chills, fever, body aches and headaches. Symptoms appear 4 to 10 hours after exposure.
However, those who experience this type of fever experience significant improvement over the next 12-48 hours. In all cases studied, affected individuals were exposed to fumes caused by overcooked Teflon at extreme temperatures of at least 730°F for at least four hours.
Polymer fume fever is a relatively rare disease, and oxygen therapy is generally performed under close observation.
Generally, overheated cookware produces toxic fumes. This doesn’t just happen with cookware coated with PTFE and/or PFOA; fumes can occur even when aluminum, cast iron, silicon, and ceramic cookware overheats.
Your grilling mat should clearly state at what temperature it is safe to use. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and you’ll be fine.
Maximum heat capacity of a nonstick pan
Although PTFE is very stable and resistant to even the harshest chemicals, everything changes when temperatures exceed 500°F.
Nonstick grill mats go through the same process as any other material at its melting point; depending on temperature fluctuations, substances may change from solid to liquid, and from liquid to gas.
Now, for BBQ users, things get a little more complicated. PTFE deteriorates at temperatures above 500°F and decomposes at 662°F, making it unusable and completely toxic.
That means the difference between safe and toxic is just a matter of a few degrees.
So even though it was created to help with grilling, you can’t and shouldn’t place a grill mat directly over an open flame because it’s difficult to control the temperature of the grill.
Doing so will instantly melt and destroy the mat and cause chemicals to mix directly into your food.
But not all manufacturing processes use worrisome materials. Some grill pads are hard anodized, while other ceramic-based nonstick coatings, such as Thermolon, don’t release such chemicals even after reaching high temperatures.
Still, the temperature of a traditional grill is usually between 150 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit, so there is little risk of burning the grill mat.
However, if your grill mat doesn’t come with full specifications to ensure it meets safety guidelines, it’s best to use them only in low temperature environments.
It is essential to use as little friction as possible on the cooking surface of the mat as it can scratch and weaken the integrity of the nonstick coating. Whether it’s cooking or cleaning, there are certain rules that must be followed.
Use appropriate tools
Using the wrong tool can damage the grilling mat’s coating. Some metal utensils have rough or sharp edges that can damage your nonstick cookware.
Therefore, always use plastic, wood, or rubber utensils during cooking to maximize the life of any nonstick cookware you own.
Here are the best tools available for nonstick surface cookware:
•Burr-free heat-resistant plastic tools
•Round edge wooden cooking spoon
•Silicone utensils and spatulas
•Nylon kitchen utensils
Cook with your grill Matt
In addition to the correct cooking tools, you also need to apply the correct cooking techniques when using the grilling mat.
As mentioned earlier, as little friction as possible is required to ensure the longevity of your grilling mat. It’s better to prepare simple meals while grilling and keep them moving, rather than having them sit on a surface to cook.
Depending on how often you use your nonstick grill mat, it may last up to 2 to 3 years. Some companies, like Kona, make grill pads with an extra layer of PTFE. Although slightly more expensive, it can be a good investment, especially if you plan to use the grill mat a lot.
Cleaning the Grill Matt
Just like cleaning your grill, you should clean your grill pads. One of the biggest selling points of nonstick products is their ease of cleaning.
Here are some tips for safely cleaning your grill mat:
•Be sure to wash the pads immediately after use.
•Do not use steel wool, scouring pads or harsh chlorine cleaners as they may scratch and penetrate the surface of the grill mat.
•If there is a hard residue, soak the pad in soapy water for about an hour or more, then wipe clean with a microfiber cloth, paper towel, or cotton towel.
•Nylon scrubbing pads are ideal for cleaning grill pads.
•If your grill mat is dishwasher safe (and most are), place the mat on the top rack of the dishwasher and run it on high heat to remove any stubborn residue.
•If your nonstick grill mat starts to peel or is badly scratched or damaged, stop using the mat to avoid transfer of coating debris to the food.
Storing a BBQ Mat
A quality grill mat doesn’t come cheap, so you’ll want to keep your investment safe even when storing it.
Careless storage is one of the main causes of premature aging of nonstick cookware, so you need to handle the pads with care so that they will hold up well for years to come.
When storing nonstick cookware, avoid stacking them as this can cause scratches that can affect their longevity.
Before putting them away, make sure they are clean and free of moisture so they don’t rust. You’ll also find cookware and bakeware storage options to minimize contact with the nonstick coating.
Additional Safety Considerations When Cooking With Nonstick Pans
Cooking with a nonstick pan is safe, healthy and generally very convenient. Follow these tips to minimize health risks when cooking with PTFE-coated products.
•Avoid preheating an empty pan as it can reach high heat in minutes
•Avoid cooking at high temperatures as much as possible.
•Turn exhaust fans or windows to help remove fumes when cooking
•Don’t use cooking spray as it will burn at lower temperatures and may cause the cookware’s nonstick coating to melt.
•Do not store food in nonstick pans.
•Replace old cookware, especially if it has excessive scratches, flaking, flaking and chipping.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do BBQ mats cause cancer?
According to experts, if you are regularly exposed to PFOA, you may have a higher risk of certain cancers and an increased risk of developing tumors. The main areas where this occurs are the liver, testes, breasts, and pancreas.
However, you should know that non-stick cookware is not a significant source of PFOA exposure, as most of it gets burned during the manufacturing process. It’s only present in very small amounts, which means the link between cancer and tumor risk is unlikely to be the case with baking mat use.
Unfortunately, the long-term effects of PFOA and similar chemicals are largely unknown, and experts actually say that the risk of cancer and tumors only occurs with high exposure to PFOA.
Most barbecue mats will be PFOA-free, so the major health risks associated with PFOA are no longer a concern.
Are BBQ Mats Toxic?
Barbecue mats aren’t technically toxic, but it’s not just a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Baking mats themselves are not toxic, but they can emit dangerous fumes if heated to extreme temperatures.
Grilling is a high-temperature cooking application, which is why many people are concerned about it. However, as long as you use these pads safely and responsibly, you should have no problems.
PFOA is a substance that can stay in the body for a long time, and prolonged exposure to it can increase the risk of several health conditions. However, using a grill mat is nothing to worry about, as most of the chemicals will burn off before the product reaches your kitchen. This means your exposure will be minimal, if any.
Another problem is polymer fume fever, a rare disease that can occur from inhaling fumes from overheated baking mats. Some symptoms of this condition are similar to those of the flu, including fever, chills, and body aches.
However, in order to develop this, you must be exposed to the smoke for at least four hours. Nonstick surfaces must also be heated all the way to at least 730 degrees Fahrenheit. This is very unlikely.
How many times can you use the BBQ mat?
You can use grill mats over and over and they can be used on charcoal, electric or gas grills. They’re super easy to clean and dishwasher safe, so you can keep using them until they start to wear out. Depending on how often you use your grilling mats, they should last about 2 to 3 years.
Is PTFE Coating Dangerous?
Most grill mats contain PTFE, the same compound used to give nonstick and Teflon a smooth and glossy finish. This compound has been approved for use by the FDA and is generally considered nontoxic.
However, when it comes to cookware, there are many questions surrounding whether it is safe to use. The manufacturing process involves the use of PFOA, which may pose health risks when used in large quantities.
The manufacturer does claim that most of the PFOA is burned off during the manufacturing process, but traces may still be present. PFOA has been labeled as a toxic substance by the EPA, and many companies are looking for alternatives.
Are BBQ mats safe? Bottom line
Are BBQ mats safe? Yes, but only if used safely.
Grilling mats are great grilling tools. They retain moisture in food, cook more evenly, and even allow you to make breakfast on the grill! Baked hash browns, eggs and bacon. What about pancakes? Um! It wouldn’t be possible without a BBQ mat.
As long as you are careful and follow the precautions when using the pads, there should be no cause for concern when using them.