While the environmental impact of grilling is negligible compared with most of the other things we do in our day it is important that we take every aspect of our lives into consideration when it comes to combating air pollution and our carbon footprint. By making a few changes to the way we grill and the kinds of products we buy we can make grilling green. Try out these suggestions to make your outdoor cooking more environmentally friendly.
- Avoid petroleum based lighter fluids and self-lighting charcoal. These release petrochemicals into the atmosphere. Instead, use a charcoal chimney, an electric charcoal starter, or natural lighter fluids to get your fire going (see Charcoal Starters).
- Choose a superior charcoal. Natural charcoals and lump charcoal made from furniture scraps and waste wood without additives and binders make a cleaner fire that not only reduces your pollution output but improves your grilling experience.
- Switch to gas. Gas grills are much more energy efficient than charcoal grills and produce far less pollutants.
- Switch to Natural Gas. Many grills have a natural gas option. Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel and burns much cleaner than propane grills.
- Reduce preheat times. Most gas grills are ready to cook in 5 to 10 minutes. Charcoal takes 15 to 20 minutes to be ready for cooking. Plan your cooking time to correspond to when your grill is ready and don’t leave you grill burning any longer than you need to.
- Clean your grill while it is still hot after you cook instead of increasing your preheating times. When the grill is cool use a mixture of water and baking soda to clean off the cooking grates.
- Clean out your grill regularly. Build up of grease and food particles in your grill will produce unnecessary smoke. Also take this time to clean out grease drip trays under your grill.
- Avoid disposable dishes and utensils for your next cook out. A few minutes washing dishes is better than a pile of paper plates and plastic forks in the garbage.
- Trim excess fats from meat. Not only will this make your grilling healthier, reduce flare-ups, but also reduce the release of harmful chemicals from the air.
- Make informed decisions about your next grill. Unfortunately, many grills built today, particularly gas grill, are simply not built to last. Buying a higher quality, longer lasting grill will not only save you money in the long term but reduce the pollution from manufacturing, packaging, shipping and recycling (hopefully) of the grills you buy.
The Greenest Charcoal: Charcoal produces more pollution than gas or electric grills, but for many of us the better flavor and versatility charcoal make it a hard habit to give up (see Charcoal versus Gas). To reduce the impact of burning charcoal, look for the purest solution. Think about this. A branch falls from a tree in your yard. You leave it to decay. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the carbon released by this decay is the same as if you burned the wood from the branch.
Granted, burning puts that carbon quickly into the atmosphere but the end result is the same. Now imagine that you ground that wood into sawdust, combined it with binders to make it stick together, and then fired it into charcoal. This process adds pollutants to the charcoal and increases the carbon output. If you were to then add lighter fluid you would dramatically increase the pollution created. By choosing natural, additive free charcoals, or natural lump charcoal you eliminate these additives and therefore make a cleaner fire. You also reduce the chemicals in the smoke that may taint the flavor of the food you cook (see charcoal).
Light Your Charcoal the Right Way: The EPA lists volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as a dangerous ozone causing pollutant. Every year Americans along release over 14,000 tons of VOCs into the atmosphere from the 46,000 tons of lighter fluid burned every year.
Putting down the lighter fluid greatly reduces the pollution from grilling. Additionally, self-lighting charcoal is no better for the air. Your best choice for lighting charcoal is to switch to a charcoal chimney, electric charcoal starter, or use a natural combustion agent like fatwood (see Charcoal Starters).
These methods are also safer considering that lighting charcoal is the greatest cause of barbecue related injury (see Lighting Charcoal).
The Greenest Grill: While it is true that a natural gas grill or an electric grill is the greenest grill from the perspective of air pollution it must be considered that grill durability is a major issue for the outdoor cook. Replacing a cheap grill every three or four years does far more damage to the earth’s resources than buying a grill designed and built to last for many more years. When you consider manufacturing, packaging, shipping and disposal (hopefully recycled), the short life expectancy of many grills made these days poses a significant impact to the environment. Buy quality products, take good care of them, repair as needed, and don’t replace them until necessary. I have extensive lists of the best charcoal and gas grills on the market today. I do my best to take into consideration the durability of these products.
When it comes to charcoal grills, look for one that can be shut down.
This means that when you are done grilling you can close the vents and the lack of oxygen will put out the fire saving the remaining charcoal for your next cookout. When it's time to light up the grill again all you need to do is shake off the ashes, add a little more charcoal and light. This lets you control how much you burn and reduces the amount you spend on charcoal. Careful management of the charcoal you burn can save you a lot of money and be good for the environment.
Grilling IS Green: Want a good burger? Grab the family, jump in the car, drive to your favorite burger joint, spend too much money, and then drive home. How much energy and time did you spend? Since grilling doesn’t lend itself to prepackaged foods and gives you an easy way to produce good meals from scratch. Buy fresh meats and vegetables and grill them up without having to unpack all that "stuff" they sell in the middle of the store. Additionally, grilling lets you turn off the stove and oven reducing your electrical usage. Since about 7% of the electricity used in the U.S. is renewable you can cut down on your electric bill and reduce pollution from power plants. So fire up the grill and put the guilt aside.