Many barbecues use charcoal to grill food. But making charcoal is wasteful, and burning it pollutes the air and adds to climate change. Here is what you need to know about charcoal, plus 5 green green barbecues that will keep your air much cleaner.
What’s Wrong With Charcoal?
⇒ Charcoal is actually made from wood, and making it can be a pretty wasteful process. Only 20 to 35 percent of the wood needed to make a chunk of charcoal actually ends up as charcoal, reports Rodale.
⇒ What doesn’t become charcoal gets converted to gas and emitted into the atmosphere, where it adds to the greenhouse gases that are heating up the planet and causing climate change.
⇒ Plus, burning charcoal creates “black carbon,” a sticky soot that floats into the upper atmosphere that also contributes to climate change.
⇒ Closer to home, burning charcoal pollutes air locally because when it burns, it emits carbon monoxide and tiny, smoky particles that pollute the air. Some cities are considering banning charcoal and wood barbecues to help protect their air.
5 Green Barbecues
Here are some green barbecues that Mother Nature herself might use.
1) Solar – There are many solar options to choose from, including “cookers,” which are more like ovens, and barbecues, which you can use to saute and grill. Because you’re cooking in a pan or on a tray and not over an open flame, you won’t get the charred flavor you expect from a typical barby. But solar tops the list for clean outdoor cooking, and it’ll save you money on charcoal and lighter fluid. Search “solar barbecue” online to compare features and purchase prices. The only fuel you’ll need to get started is direct — and free — sunlight. Take a look at this solar cooker with trivet as another possibility.
2) Natural Gas or Propane – Natural gas and propane burn cleaner than charcoal or wood. Because they create a cooking flame, they still impart a grilled flavor. They’re also clean to handle. If your grill uses propane, you’ll power it up using a refillable tank that you can get at Home Depot, Ace Hardware or maybe even your grocery store. If you already use natural gas to heat your home, and if you keep your grill in one place, you may be able to hook up a gas line directly to your grill. Gas grills come in a wide variety of sizes, from a big “Cadillac” model with lots of bells and whistles (like side burners for pots, and side shelves that can store cooking utensils) to small fold-up options that are great for picnics and tailgate parties. Don’t buy big when a smaller size will do, and whatever you buy, take care of it to extend its life. That means cleaning up right after you use it so food doesn’t moulder on the grate or cause rust. Keeping it covered with a waterproof tarp is also a must.
3) Electric – If your energy source is windpower, an electric grill will generate the least pollution of all barbecue options apart from solar. But even if your power comes from the regular electricity grid, an electric grill makes sense if you want to protect your local air quality. Plus, if your apartment complex or homeowner’s association forbid gas or charcoal grills for air quality or safety reasons, electric grills can save the day. Popular Mechanics tested five outdoor electric grills by grilling corn on the cob, vegetable kebabs, hamburger patties and boneless chicken breasts. It’s worth reading their reviews to get a sense of the options available, what they cost, and how their performance compares.
4) Superior Lump Charcoal Without Petroleum Additives – Of all the barbecue options, charcoal is the most polluting. But if you are using charcoal, look for hardwood charcoal made from wood waste recovered from the lumber industry, which you can find online, at Whole Foods, and possibly some big box stores. Or, give charcoal made from coconut husks a try. Bon Appetit reviewed charcoal, wood and coconut here.
5) Chimney Charcoal Starter – Charcoal and lighter fluid are usually sold side by side. But in addition to the smoke emitted from burning charcoal, lighter fluid pollutes the air, too. Why? It’s made from petroleum distillates that produce volatile organic compounds that create smog. A cleaner alternative is to tuck crumpled newspaper or dryer lint into the bottom of a charcoal chimney. Load charcoal on top, and light with a match. Give it 15 minutes, then pour hot coals onto the fire grate.
By the way, if you are grilling meat, trim the fat before you put it on the grill. Avoid thick oily marinades as well. Fat dripping on hot coals creates smoky flare ups that can leave cancer-causing agents called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on the meat as it cooks. Pre-cooking in an oven or on a cook top also helps by reducing the amount of time the meat needs to stay on the grill.