Summertime or any time, firing up the barbecue is a tasty way to make dinner special. Here's how to make it earth-friendly, too.
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.
• 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 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.)
• 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?
• 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 average $15 on Google).
• Go solar. A solar stove cooks more slowly and won't get you the same grilled flavor. But it can't be beat for a clean-cooking cookout. (The "sport solar oven" costs $150, but you'll never buy charcoal or other cooking fuel again.)
What to Serve?
* Have a healthier cookout by choosing lean meats; trimming the fat; and marinating in citrus juices, olive oils and herbs.
* For a delicious vegetarian barbecue, see this tofu recipe, or another one for grilled tofu and melon salad. You can also grill vegetable kebabs or skewers of pineapple, melon and other fruit .
* Go for locally-brewed beers and locally grown food. Decorate with greens and flowers from your own yard.
Plates and Utensils
Just because you’re eating on your back porch or patio doesn’t mean you need to serve your meal using throwaways. But if you’d rather not take your daily dishes outside, try reusable and easy-to-stack plates, cups and cutlery made from recycled plastic. If you must buy throwaways, choose paper plates and napkins made from recycled paper.
In the market for a new picnic table or other patio furniture? Loll Designs and Plastic Lumberyard offer options made from recycled HDPE plastic, like milk jugs, detergent bottles and margarine tubs. They won’t fade, chip or warp and won’t need to be covered or treated with preservatives that may contain nasty chemicals.
If you must have wood, look for furniture bearing the FSC label to insure it comes from sustainably-managed forests.
GroovyStuff sells beautiful furniture made from reclaimed teak.