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4th of July grilling for migraine sufferers

4th of July grilling for migraine sufferers


Last month, I provided a few Memorial Day eating tips for migraine sufferers. With 4th of July around the corner, I wanted to share a few thoughts about grilling if you suffer from migraines.  Grilling with migraines is really a special skill that everyone suffering from migraines needs to learn. Now, if you’re out and about, around someone else’s pool or back yard, there is not much you can do, apart from declining that beautifully prepared prime bone-in rib-eye steak or porterhouse pork chop. Meats not prepared by a migraine sufferer may contain rubs and BBQ sauces containing coriander, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, or onion powder just to name a few. However, around your pool or backyard, you can grill amazing meals that should not trigger a migraine. Here’s how.


Grilling with migraines
Fresh Every Day

Buy everything on the day or as close to the day when you intend to grill.  Sure, your pro griller friend will tell you that the meat can keep in the refrigerator. He might even say that if you are going to marinate the meat, then the meat should sit in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Not so for a migraine sufferer. Grilling with migraines requires a different approach. Tyramine production really kicks it into high gear once the meat is sitting in the refrigerator. If you are going to use some sort of marinate, only do so for one or two hours at the most and carefully consider your ingredients. I like to get to the butcher shop as early as possible on that morning. There are a number of advantages in doing this. First, you get your pick of the best cuts. Second, there’s no circling around the parking lot looking for a parking space.  Finally, you can have a conversation with the butcher about the different meats they have on display, to make a more informed decision. For example, I would ask when the meat was cut, where it came from, whether it was previously frozen, grass-fed or not, and so on.

Grilling with migraines – The Basics

Hamburger patties and sausages make up your traditional items. As I wrote about in the Memorial Day article on sausages, most of the pre-packaged ones contain nitrites and nitrates. In addition, the fresh Italian sausages you get at the meat counter of your super market can contain fennel seeds, chili peppers, cayenne, etc. Grilling with migraines means avoiding these as much as possible. If you are willing to do the work, the best thing to do is make the hamburger patties as well as sausages yourself from 80-85% ground chuck. Don’t buy frozen pre-made patties at the supermarket. These often contain preservatives that are supposedly “for freshness” but can really cause problems. It is also tempting to get the “fresh” pre-made ones from behind the counter. However, these often already contain cheeses or other items that a migraine sufferer should not eat. Know exactly what you are buying and stick to the basics.

USDA Beef Grades

Grilling with migraines
USDA Prime Beef

Grilling with migraines starts with selecting great meat. There are three grades of USDA beef – prime, choice, and select. If you buy choice beef, chances are good that these will contain much less marbling, if any, compared to a prime cut. There are times, when buying USDA choice can make sense. For example, if you are making a stew and you’re going to let the meat cook slowly for 6-8 hours, you might be fine with your choice selection. However, for flavorful grilling and BBQ, do not buy anything except USDA prime. That same local butcher shop stocks USDA prime. Yes, you are going to pay more but the difference is significant. Make sure the cut is nice and thick, perhaps an inch to an inch and a half. Who wants to serve and eat a burned, flavorless, and chewy piece of steak? Steaks need time to get done. Most people, who buy USDA choice cuts or worse, end up using a store-bought rub or sauce just to make up for the poor tasting meat. That’s terrible. Now that you have bought your USDA prime steak, you’re ready for the next step.

To add or not add spices to your steak when grilling with migraines

You are at least halfway there with a thick and fresh USDA prime cut. Now, there are some things that you could consider adding to your meat. Adding salt sparingly makes sense as it helps retain moisture while adding flavor. Generally, someone suffering from migraines should be ok with some salt. You might also consider adding some black pepper for flavor but this is not essential and can cause issues. Do NOT use store-bought rubs and BBQ sauces. While these can be tasty, they are not safe under any circumstance. Worst-case scenario, they contain MSG, maltodextrin, or “spices”. Most of the time, these contain garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, turmeric, “spices”, chili powder, and “natural smoke flavor” whatever that is. If you need smoke, add some wood chips to the fire and you’ll have all the natural smoke you need. Know your ingredients and trust me – no one will care when a tender, juicy, and beautifully marbled steak is served up. If someone asks for A-1, ask them nicely to leave.



Grilled hot fresh juicy chicken legs

Chicken is surprisingly easy to grill. If you suffer from migraines, you may also have another condition that prevents you from eating beef. No worries. Grab a large zip-lock bag and stuff it with a full stick of butter, fresh thyme and oregano, adding your chicken cut of choice. I have found that drumsticks or thighs get the job done when grilling. Rub everything together and you are good to go. These ingredients are easy on the stomach for those of us with migraines.

Preparing fish when grilling with migraines


Fresh fish with herbs and vegetables

Anyone who has spent a fair amount of time behind a grill knows how tasty grilled fish can be. For those of you grilling with migraines, stay away from marinating the fish. Instead, use butter, fresh dill, sliced pieces of lemon with a pinch of black pepper depending on tolerance, and grill with the scales facing the flame. If lemon is too strong on the stomach, consider adding it once the fish is done. DO NOT grill the fish with olive oil. The olive oil is going to burn and may upset your stomach, leading to migraines. If you have to use olive oil, add it only once the fish is on your plate.



Summertime is great for grilling and just because we have migraines doesn’t mean that we don’t get to enjoy all of the tastiness. Here’s hoping you enjoy a really great time grilling with migraines.

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  • I meant to ask this too: are you saying to never consume coriander, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, or onion powder ever or just when in a cooked item? I ask because I have found that cinnamon and cayenne pepper added to my coffee in place of sugar helps not only to alleviate pain, but it helps with light sensitivity within 30 minutes as well!

    • Hi there. When it comes to rubs, sauces, and seasoning, sellers often seem to think that more is better. When these are then added to certain store-bought foods, like sausages or patties, you are introducing too many different ingredients all at once. Whether anyone of these could be a trigger will differ from person to person. Suffering from migraines, it is preferable to avoid a situation where you have no control over potential ingredients that could prove harmful. Furthermore, by picking the best cut for whatever you are grilling, there is really no need to add spices or other ingredients because the meat will taste great to begin with, if prepared properly.

    • Many of us can often have an intolerance to a wide variety of foods. In addition, how certain foods are prepared is also significant. Something as simple as burning olive oil or charring meat may prove difficult. When food is heated, or meat is grilled at a high temperature causing charring, the nitrates are converted to nitrosamine, which can be harmful to the body. For those of us that exhibit heightened sensitivity, even the smallest amount could potentially trigger an episode.

  • Yesss to the comment. I’be always been a migraine sufferer but recently I’ve noticed headaches with grilled food. Not sure if it’s the kerosine, charcoals or what but I’ve noticed that a comment factor in three separate incidents. Pain, throwing up and sensitive to light – it’s also the worst migraine that I receive. I hope someone does more research into this.

  • I occasionally get a nasty and long-lasting migraine after eating grilled food. Not every time, but sometimes. I wonder how many people ever consider the fact that when you are grilling…especially using charcoal briquettes or wood…you are standing there in close proximity to the grill for extended periods…and breathing in the fumes and carbon monoxide produced during the process. That, by itself, could be the cause of a migraine…fumes of CO and CO2. Friday evening I grilled…adding cherrywood chips for more smoke…and I woke up with a horrible headache the next morning. So, on Sunday morning I decided to grill my breakfast and to be extra careful to avoid breathing fumes. As it is still Sunday morning as I type this, I don’t yet know if my theory will work. I just would like anyone reading this article to consider grilling fumes as well…and to minimize exposure as best they can. It might help.

    • You make a good point and it is important to underscore the fact that triggers come in all shapes and sizes. Appreciate the observation and hopefully, since you took care to stand away from the grill, it won’t affect you to the same degree!

  • I love your blog…very informative. One of the real issues I have found is trying to find accurate information online on actual punts of tyramine in foods. There are countless lists, probably many of them copied and pasted, which state presence,
    but nothing that states actual concentrations for things like nuts, veg, dairy etc…

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