How Green Is Your Grill?

— Written By and last updated by Nancie Mandeville

chicken steak and sausage on the grill

With Independence Day just around the corner, many of us are planning the meal we will cook to share with family and friends. Grilling is a great way to cook fresh meats and vegetables quickly, make a meal more festive, and delegate some of the cooking.

You have several types of fuels to choose from when grilling ‐ gas, electricity, or charcoal. Each has its own environmental and monetary costs.

Gas and electricity are quick and don’t leave much of a carbon footprint. But both are lacking in that you don’t get that wood smoke flavor added to the food.

Charcoal, the third fuel option, is made two different ways; one method is much more organic than the other. The commercial method uses leftover sawdust, combined with binders, including coal dust, sodium nitrate, limestone, borax, and lighter fluids, and bakes them into briquettes. Regular and self‐lighting charcoal briquettes pollute the environment with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a dangerous ozone‐causing pollutant. Every year Americans alone release over 14,000 tons of VOCs into the atmosphere from the 46,000 tons of lighter fluid burned through charcoal grills. The ash from charcoal briquettes contains chemical residues and must be disposed of in the garbage.

Natural lump hardwood charcoal, on the other hand, is carbon neutral or even slightly carbon negative if the ashes are used as a biochar soil amendment. Nothing compares to the flavor of natural lump hardwood charcoal ‐ it is the fuel of choice for barbeque masters. This type of charcoal is made from wood that is kiln-dried. This process releases the same amount of carbon dioxide as if the wood was allowed to decay on its own in the forest, and it imparts a smoky flavor to foods that complement meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables. Hardwood lump charcoal burns hotter and cleaner than briquettes and is much easier to light ‐ even without lighter fluid. The leftover ash is good for the environment, as it can be used as a soil amendment to neutralize acidic soils.

No matter which method you use to grill, be safe and enjoy the holiday.