Food & Drink
The Thrill of the Grill: A Resource for Green Grilling
Before you fire up the grill this summer, be sure you know how to be the most eco-responsible grill master you can be. Here is almost everything you need to know, in order to make great green grilling decisions.
Originally Published: 07/12/10
It would seem like grilling is the ultimate in eco-friendly cooking: You're in the open air, you're probably not using electricity, and chances are, you're preparing simple, unprocessed foods — but unless you're careful, grilling can actually do harm to the environment, causing pollution and posing health risks. It might be even easier to enjoy one of America's favorite summer pastimes if you know you're doing all you can to keep the cooking green.
Choosing the right grill: Gas, charcoal, or electric?
Picking the grill that is least harmful to the environment is easier said than done. Here are some pros and cons about the three main grill types, for your consideration:
Gas grills emit roughly one-third as much carbon dioxide as charcoal grills, according to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory
— that's quite a boon to the environment. What's more, gas grills offer the advantage of simpler temperature control than charcoal grills, so it may be easier to achieve a perfect, healthy, time/temperature ratio. Because the healthiest way to prepare grilled foods is to cook smaller cuts of meat (or vegetables!) for longer times at lower temperatures — thereby reducing the potentially harmful chemicals
produced when foods are cooked at intense, high temperatures — maintaining constant temperature control is important. Cons:
Neither gas nor propane is a renewable resource, and grilled food doesn't taste quite as good as it does when made on a charcoal grill.
It's no wonder fast-food chains use the taste of flame- and char-broiling as a selling point — the tastiest burgers undoubtedly come from charcoal-fueled grills. Plus, charcoal is derived from trees, a renewable resource
Unfortunately, charcoal grills can cause hefty environmental damage
, since burning charcoal releases soot and other pollutants into the air. They're also not quite as user-friendly as gas grills, since they require a longer amount of time to heat up, and you can't control the temperature as easily.
Electric grills don't produce carbon dioxide, and it's possible to make the electric grill the greenest grill option, hands down, if you generate your electricity with wind or solar power. No matter what, just remember to unplug your electric grill when not in use. Cons:
Unless you do use wind or solar power to run your electric grill, electric grilling could actually be a bigger pollution culprit than gas or charcoal because of the fossil fuel emissions created when producing and transmitting electricity.
Picking cleaner fuel: What can you do to make the best of what you have?
For gas grills, choose refillable gas tanks. It's also wise to consider natural gas over propane, if your grill can accommodate that. If you have a propane burning gas grill, you may want to consider purchasing a conversion kit
that converts propane to natural gas — your grill manufacturer may be able to recommend or provide you with one if you inquire.
If you do have a charcoal grill, there are ways to minimize its effect on the Earth. For instance, look for carbon neutral charcoal briquettes
or charcoal derived from sustainably-harvested wood
. You can also avoid lighter fluid
, which releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. VOCs are present in match-light type charcoals, so consider trying other ways to build your fire, like using a chimney starter
. A chimney starter also offers a good opportunity to reuse materials from around the house — you can use old newspapers to light the starter, or even make your own
with a coffee can and wire coat hangers.
Greening the process: How can you repurpose household items for grilling tools?
Heavy-duty welding gloves or leather working gloves, if they're thick enough, can be used as mitts to protect your hands from the heat.
Swabbing the hot grill grate with a little oil keeps food from sticking; pour a little oil into a clean, empty yogurt container to keep by the grill, and use squares cut from an old, clean T-shirt, held by a pair of tongs, for the swabbing.
For a really tasty reuse tip: instead of spending money on a basting brush, try tying a handful of sturdy herbs from your garden, such as rosemary or thyme, around the handle of a wooden spoon — this makeshift brush has the added benefit of imparting its own flavor onto your food.
Having difficulty with the small, delicate foods? A pair of chopsticks works well to flip items like zucchini slices or asparagus.
To enjoy your grilled feast, consider ways to avoid disposable place settings, reuse old sheets for tablecloths, and prep natural, earth-friendly beverages
Cleaning up properly: Where does the ash go?
After you finish grilling, use a stiff-bristled brush to scrape any burnt food residue off the grate; this will cut down on the possibility of carcinogenic charred matter getting onto your food next time you grill.
Let the ashes cool completely before disposing of them, ideally a full day. You could use some ash in your garden to balance the pH, but be sure to determine the soil quality
first to make sure ash is even needed; if you do add ash, you should only use wood ash, as charcoal ash contains elements harmful to plants. If spreading the ash in the soil isn't an option, than cooled ash should be disposed of in the garbage.
Do you have any any other tips to make grilling environmentally friendly (and still tasty and fun)? Share them in the comments below!
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