Charcoal is out. What’s in – and Eco?

If you're still grilling with charcoal, I've only got one question for you: Why?

Most grills use either natural gas, propane, charcoal, or electricity. Of these options, charcoal emits more carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and soot than any of the others.

"Charcoal grills and lighter fluid also contribute more to ground-level ozone [smog]", says Ana Gomez, of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, not exactly the ambience you're looking for when you invite friends over for a cookout.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives?

• Go solar. A solar stove like the Global Sun Oven (pictured) cooks more slowly and won't get you the same grilled flavor. But it can't be beat for an environmentally-friendly, clean-cooking cookout, and you'll never buy charcoal or other cooking fuel again. Cook casseroles, veggies, tofu, and maybe a few marshmallows. You'll need direct sunlight for the time it takes to cook your food. Read the cooking directions that come with the oven for best results, then see what works best in your yard or on your porch or patio.

• Choose a gas grill over charcoal. If you already use natural gas to heat your home or power your appliances, you may be able to hook up a gas line directly to your grill. The convenience of not needing to refill propane tanks may outweigh the cost of the hook-up. Otherwise, choose propane, which also burns cleaner than charcoal. This website lists dozens of grill choices by brand. NOTE: Don't buy a larger appliance than you need or you'll end up wasting energy and money.) You can get small, portable propane grills to use at the beach, camping, or for tail-gate parties.

• Use lump charcoal instead of briquettes. Briquettes may contain coal dust and other additives. Look for hardwood briquettes from sustainably- managed forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program.

• Trade in your lighter fluid. These toxic petroleum distillates produce volatile organic compounds that create smog. No sense ruining your skewers or burgers with an air quality alert, is there? Instead…

Try a chimney charcoal starter. Tuck crumpled newspaper into the bottom of the canister, load charcoal on top, and light with a match. You'll be able to pour hot coals onto the fire grate in about 15 minutes. Alternatively, use an electric starter. (Chimney charcoal starters are cheap! $10 – $15).

(You can find several of these products, along with other things you need for summer, at our store.)

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7 Responses to Charcoal is out. What’s in – and Eco?

  1. Marie @ awakeatheart May 23, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    I use lump charcoal and a chimney. With lump charcoal I get to reuse about half of the charcoal for the next light by closing the vents immediately when I’m done cooking, so it’s pretty economical versus one-use briquettes. The food definitely tastes better than gas-grilled food, and lump hardwood charcoal without lighter fluid tastes better than briquettes and fluid, IMHO. I’ve had both propane and charcoal grills over the years, but I definitely prefer charcoal. I don’t want to go down the road of adding more natural gas usage with my grill. While it may seem better in some environmental respects, it’s worse in others.

  2. Lisa May 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    We have a gas grill but next time we may look into electric.

  3. Sharon Mathew May 26, 2011 at 4:35 am #

    With increasing need of energy saving products in our day to day life it is really important for us to choose an alternative of charcoal. According to me natural gas grill will be a much better option. Thanks for sharing information about different alternatives for charcoal grill.

  4. Adam @ June 3, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    I love the solar idea. The extra time to cook is worth it, I’m a huge fan of anything solar. Thanks for the good post!

  5. Patti (the Electric Car Girl) Markow June 4, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    I found this blog to be both interesting and informative. On the subject of information, I thought it would also be useful for readers to know that, with the price of gas continuing to soar, they can now convert their favorite gas guzzler to an economically and environmentally efficient electric vehicle. This can be done yourself following the step-by-step instructions promoted at freestuff2greatstuff this month. Really a must in today’s economy.

  6. outdoor gas grills June 21, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    I use both a charcoal grill and a propane grill.
    The charcoal chimney from Weber works a lot better than the cheap one from lowes.
    My charcoal i use for smoking and the gas grill for
    Grilling. I would not choose one over the other.
    Would like to try one of the solar grills one day.
    I like your blog and will be back to read more.

  7. July 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Its all about the solar for the BBQ. Super easy since the grill should be outside, anyway. Easy peasy.

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