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BBQ Season Brings Choices to the Eco-Friendly Consumer

Gas, Electric or Charcoal? Which grill is healthiest and has the least environmental impact?

BBQ Season Brings Choices to the Eco-Friendly Consumer

Not that you want to be standing in the rain and cooking your dinner with the weather we’ve been having this week, but rain or not, it’s BBQ season!

Seventy four million households in the U.S. own at least one outdoor grill, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.

Grilling and BBQing is such a fun, summery event.  It makes preparing our meals a social occasion and eating them a treat.  Unfortunately, though traditional charcoal grills produce smoke and soot particles that can pollute the air, irritate the lungs and exacerbate heart problems.

What to do about it?

Catherine Zandonella, author of " National Geographic Green Guide Families" tells us to try to use charcoal that pollutes less.  Traditional charcoals may contain additives such as sodium nitrate.  And some charcoal contains self-lighting petroleum products. Stay away from these.  Instead, “buy natural wood briquettes that are certified and sustainably harvested, made without fillers and fossil fuels” says Zandonella.  In our household we love Cowboy Charcoal and the similar product sold at Trader Joe’s.

Secondly, don’t use lighter fluid.  It gives off tons of petrochemicals that go directly into your food and lungs. The best alternative is to use a chimney starter.  It’s super easy and only takes one piece of newspaper to start all your coals, so it saves money as well. 

So, you might be thinking…is an electric grill better for the environment?  Well, not necessarily.  Sure, nothing is burning and sending smoke into the air directly, but “nearly three-fourths of the electricity made in the U.S. comes from the burning of fossil fuels, according to the Department of Energy. Cooking on an electric grill for one hour creates about 15 pounds of CO2, because making electricity usually involves burning coal, gas or oil” according to ABC News.

What about gas powered grills? 

Already the most popular option for their ease of use, the gas grill is also the cleanest burning option for your back yard BBQ.  The typical charcoal grill has a carbon footprint that is nearly three times larger than the gas grill (from ABC News).

So, what are you going to cook on that grill? 

Barton Seaver is a chef, conservationist and National Geographic Fellow.  He suggests Grilled Mackerel With Fig and Citrus Dressing.  Seaver has dedicated his career to “restoring the relationship we have with our ocean.” He believes that the choices we make in what we cook directly impact the ocean and its very fragile ecosystems. 

Yum.  Enjoy…if the rain stops for long enough!

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