Summer is here, which means it’s time to get outside and enjoy your backyard, deck or patio area. What better way to do that than with a cookout? Plus, cooking your food outdoors is the more environmentally-friendly way to do it, right? Well, it can be.
As with many eco-friendly choices, it depends on a confluence of factors, including the careful selection of the right equipment. Whether you prefer cooking inside or out, the tools you use can affect the carbon footprint of your cooking.
So before you fire up the grill, think about what you can do to make your barbecue greener and cleaner. Here’s a look at the relative environmentally friendly attributes of the different grill options—gas, electric, charcoal, pellet—so you can decide which is the best fit for your green lifestyle.
Going by greenhouse gas emissions alone, gas grills are the best option. They produce 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide, compared to 11 pounds for a charcoal grill and 15 pounds for an electric (all off-site emissions from the production of the power).
Regardless of the type of fuel used (natural gas or propane), these grills use-up a non-renewable resource. However, they emit the least amount of carbon dioxide, give off far less smoke—reducing the negative effects on your family’s health—and heat up and cool down quickly, so they use less energy and heat. Look for energy-efficient models with refillable tanks, or if you can, hook them up to a natural gas line.
Wood-burning charcoal grills may provide the best flavor, but they release twice as much carbon as a gas grill and are far-less energy efficient. When wood burns it releases particulate matter into the air, but the biggest negative environmentally is if you use petroleum-based lighter fluids and self-lighting briquettes, which have additives such as such as coal, borax and sodium nitrate, and emit much more carbon dioxide than regular wood.
To counter this however, you can opt for a natural alternative, such as a lump kind made from hardwood materials with no chemical additives. Just check to see where they were made—as local as possible is best. On the flip side, briquettes are made primarily from wood waste, such as sawdust, which would simply be thrown away if it weren't turned into cooking fuel. As always, check the packaging carefully to determine the product with the greenest background based on source, location and additives.
These are an excellent choice if you have electricity from a green source, such as solar panels on your roof or hydroelectric power from your power company. Without green power, however, these are the least green option due to the amount of carbon dioxide created in the traditional production of electricity.
Pellet grills are hybrid grills that use electricity combined with small amounts of charcoal and wood, but their dependence on electricity makes them a less green choice, unless you have solar power at your disposal. Solar cookers are an interesting alternative, as they are very eco-friendly. However, they don’t produce the same “fresh off the grill” look and flavor of other, more traditional grilling options.
Don’t forget to choose your grill with the three “Rs” in mind:
Reduce the use of materials by choosing a grill that will last a long time. Stainless steel is a good option as it stands up to the elements the best, but not all stainless steel is created equal. Look for material graded 304, commercial grade, which is the most durable. Always cover it with a grill cover when not in use to extend its life.
Recycle the grill at the end of its useful life by taking it to an appropriate facility. This article provides a good breakdown of what you need to do to recycle it properly.
Reuse your grill! If you don’t want to part with it once it no longer serves its primary purpose, turn it into an eccentric but useful rolling flower planter like Lindsay Ballard of Makely.
While the impact of your outdoor grill on the environment is negligible compared the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the air from other everyday activities, going green in as many elements of your life as possible is always the better choice.
Jennifer Tuohy lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and is a big fan of outdoor cooking and green grilling. Jennifer writes on her green home indoor and outdoor ideas for The Home Depot. For a large selection of grills that could fit your own eco-friendly lifestyle, you can visit Home Depot’s website here. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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