How to Go Green While Grilling

Tis the sweaty season of backyard barbecues! As you crack open a cold drink and watch the smoke from your trusty grill waft into the cloudless blue sky, take a pause and remember that you don’t have to limit yourself to barbecuing vegetables in order to practice eco-friendly grilling!

Choose Propane, Shun Charcoal

As counterintuitive as it may seem to favor a nonrenewable resource above all others, propane (or “natural gas”) grilling earns a gold star in fewest carbon emissions, least effect on the ozone, and release of the least fine particulate matter- or air pollutants -into the atmosphere.

On the other end of the eco-friendly spectrum lies charcoal grilling, receiving top marks in both inefficiency and air pollution. According to

“…a gas burner emits about 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour, compared to 11 pounds per hour for cooking over the coals…About 90 percent of propane makes it out of the production process as useable fuel, whereas only 20 to 35 percent of the source wood ends up as a charcoal briquette….”

A 2008 study published in the Environmental Impact Assessment Review also confirmed  that charcoal burning is a direct contributor to “black carbon” in the Arctic.

Charcoal Alternatives

If you’re unwilling to give up that signature smoky flavor associated with charcoal grilling, the best you can do to support environmentally friendly grilling is to purchase either coconut shell charcoal or charcoal products stamped with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified logo. Coconut shell charcoal- coals made from 100% coconut husks -is a fantastically natural substitute that behaves exactly like its manufactured counterpart…with some added benefits:

  • easy to light
  • has a long burning life
  • smolders at a very high heat
  • no additives or chemicals

Buying lump charcoal instead of briquettes is also a step towards greener grilling, despite the fact that all forms of charcoal production impact deforestation. While lump charcoal is made from charred wood and briquettes from waste wood, briquettes also may contain sodium nitrate, coal dust, borax, and starch — all unwelcome ingredients in your backyard barbecue!

Continue your environmentally conscious charcoal grilling by ditching the lighter fluid. Lighter fluid not only results in an oddly flavored meal — it typically contains paraffin (a harmful pollutant) and contributes to carbon dioxide emissions. For a significantly more eco-friendly (and equally as effective) lighting method, crumple up some newspaper, bury it underneath the charcoal, and strike a match! (Chimney starters can help get this job done in no time.)

What About Wood and Electric?

While wood grilling can be executed with sustainably grown hickory or mesquite, this method results in equally as much air pollution as charcoal.

Electric or pellet grilling is, of course, the cleanest option in terms of energy source — but only if the electricity is generated by wind, hydro, or solar powered sources. Otherwise, your electric grill’s carbon footprint is on-par with traditional charcoal!

When it’s all said and done, the last step to eco-friendly grilling is scrubbing your grates clean with a non-toxic, green cleaner. Soap and water, a stiff wire grill brush, and vegetable oil are all bonafide tools that’ll get the job done without the chemical hangover!

Happy grilling!