Is Smoked Meat Bad For You? (7 Things To Consider)

Jayden Lawson
Published by Jayden Lawson
Last Updated On: June 19, 2024

Is there anyone who doesn't like smoked meat?

The smoky aroma overwhelms your senses, the sound of meat as it sizzles on the grill and its charred appearance is something no one can resist.

But, you heard somewhere this kind of meat is not good for your health.

As usual, there are good and not-so-good things connected to smoked meat.

Don't worry; you don't have to give up your favorite soft, tasty, and rich aromatic meat, but it would be good to pay attention to a few essential facts.

Quick Summary

  • While smoked meat offers flavor and protein, frequent consumption can lead to increased sodium levels, stomach infections, and exposure to carcinogens, potentially increasing cancer risks.
  • Smoking is a method of cooking and flavoring meat, with four main ways: cold, warm, hot smoking, and liquid smoke. Benefits include being a great source of protein, providing essential nutrients, and being low in fat.
  • According to a 2021 review published in the National Library of Medicine, smoked meat and fish products contain heat-induced compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, and nitrosamines, which are known to be toxic and carcinogenic to humans [1].
  • To minimize health risks, reduce consumption to 1-2 times per week, combine with fresh vegetables and fruits, use low-fat meats, exercise regularly, and choose liquid smoke brands free of carcinogens.

What Smoking Does To The Meat

Meat on a smoking grill

Smoking is a method of cooking and flavoring meat. It dates from the ancient past as one of the first meat preparation techniques people used to preserve the meat.

Nowadays, we use smoking to get a charred appearance and add flavor to the ingredients rather than keep the meat.

There are four ways of smoking: cold smoking, warm smoking, hot smoking on high temperatures, and through the use of "liquid smoke."

Cold smoking does not cook the meat but only gives a smoked flavor. On the other hand, hot smoking and grilling include cooking ingredients at high temperatures in different types of smokers.

3 Benefits of Smoked Meat

It is not difficult to say why we all love smoked meat - the charred appearance, unique flavor, aroma, and juicy, crispy taste are the top reasons, of course. But there are other benefits necessary for your health, as long as you do not eat too much.

1. It's a great source of protein

Smoked meat is well known as a high-protein food. According to 2016 research in the National Library of Medicine,  proteins help nourish the body and are significant for overall health [2].

As a source of proteins and energy, it is essential for building muscles. That is the reason why well done smoked meat is a favorite food, especially for those who like working out.

To make it safe, try to make a balance - consume in reasonable quantities for 2-3 days per week.

2. It provides essential nutrients to the body

Smoked meats are found to be an excellent source of essential nutrients. They contain high iron levels, a vital mineral for the immune system's normal function and for treating anemia and other body conditions.

The smoking process, especially at a lower heat, helps the meat retain its nutrition values.

This food also contains omega-3 fatty acids, known as necessary for the bloodstream. This applies to smoked fish, like salmon.

3. It is low in fat

The process of smoking meat doesn't include adding oils; on the contrary, it can decrease the fat content. When smoking, the fats drip out from the meat, which reduces absorption, making it beneficial for our health.

4 Reasons Why Smoked Meat May Be Bad


There is plenty of research dealing with smoked meat and its impact on human health. According to research, when you consume smoked meats often, it can be considered bad for your overall health.

They also agree that this depends on the way of smoking, which type of wood is used, which temperature, and which heating technique is used.

These are few adverse effects of smoked meats that researchers often mention:

1. It increases sodium level

We all know that sodium is an essential mineral for our body's normal functioning, especially water balance, but also very harmful when in high doses.

If you consume smoked meats every day, you will raise your sodium level and PAH levels in the meal. Then it can affect the kidneys, which are vital organs in your body.

Improper kidney function causes numerous diseases that affect the quality of life.

2. It causes stomach infections

Smoked meats can provoke several stomach problems caused by bacteria, parasites, and other microorganisms. This applies particularly to cold-smoked meats because the low temperatures used in this process cannot kill all the pathogens.

This may result in diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, headache, and much more severe problems and health complications.

3. It contains carcinogens that can increase cancer risks

A person who overeats smoked food could have a higher risk of getting cancer. This is the conclusion reached by scientists who researched eating smoked meats and its relation to cancer.

The problem is in the smoking method, which involves carcinogens and raises the levels of PAHs.

To prepare smoked meats, we need to burn wood first and then cook meat slowly while constantly regulating temperature in the smoker. This involves many chemical reactions and creates danger in cooked products.

The smoke itself contains carcinogens, which get deposited on meat, and when you consume it, it may damage the DNA in your body and lead to cancer.

Of course, that is not a high concentration of carcinogens, and it will not cause cancer if you eat smoked meats once in a while.

But if you are exposed to these influences day by day, the risk of getting cancer will rise. The most common types are cancer from ingredients cooked this way in humans like liver cancer, stomach cancer, bladder cancer.

4. It contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines compounds

According to a study done in 2017 by the National Cancer Institute chemicals, meat cooked at high temperatures can cause cancer [3].

Since eating smoked meat can be addictive, it may lead to rising PAH levels in meals and may add more of these carcinogenic chemical compounds to your body.

The most known chemical carcinogenic compounds are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines. They may have a negative impact on your health.

These carcinogens are formed when juices from meat come in direct contact with open fire, causing flame and smoke, and you can find them usually in well-done cuts.

According to another study [4], the type of wood also significantly influences the amount of PAH and other carcinogenic chemicals in grilled meat, so pay attention when using various fuel sources.

Read More: Can You Smoke Meat at 150 Degrees?

What About Liquid Smoke?

Many people use liquid smoke as an easy way to add a smoky taste to their cooked meat. Some studies have found that liquid smoke may also contain toxic chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

These chemicals can be carcinogenic. This is because smoke, regardless of the source, includes substances that can lead to cancer risks.

“My favorite animal is steak”.

- Fran Lebowitz, American Author

How to Consume Smoked Meat and Decrease Cancer Risk

Man checking meat on a grill

You cannot blame only one type of food for health problems. Diseases and body conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer cannot occur overnight.

If you are afraid this might happen or you have a history of some of those diseases in your family, you should be careful.

There are some tips you can use to enjoy preparing food in a smoker and cut the risk of ailments at the same time.

Reduce The Amount

Don't consume smoked or grilled meat every day. Reduce the amount to 1-2 times per week and do not overeat. Enjoy only a small portion of smoked meat occasionally.

Combination is Key

Use a variety of foods, not just one. Combine eating grilled meats with a lot of fresh vegetables.

We recommend eating a lot of fish and fresh fruits, too.

Keep It Fresh and Light

Always eat fresh meat and use meat low in fat, such as poultry.

Include Exercising In Your Daily Routine

Apart from eating and grilling you should walk, exercise, and spend some time in nature every day.

Read the Labels

If you use smoke liquid to add flavor, we suggest using brands that contain less additional flavors and are free of carcinogens.

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About the author

Jayden Lawson
Jayden is a CPW certified lifestyle writer, father of two, and a self-taught culinary artist with a passion for Southern cooking. His readers enjoy the expert interviews, success stories, and tips he shares about anything delicious, meaty, and thriving.
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