Is it Really Only March? Grilling Season is Already In High Gear

But what about the environmental impact of grills, especially charcoal?

It’s grilling season early this year, and the scents fill my neighborhood each evening.  So…gas or charcoal?

According to a 2009 study by scientific research firm Atlantic Consulting, charcoal grills leave a much larger carbon footprint - about 2/3 more in fact -than their gas-powered counterparts.  And most of that footprint is from the charcoal itself being burnt. 

The study included everything – from the process of manufacturing the grills to the transportation of the different fuel to the actual production and burning of the fuels themselves. 

And charcoal briquettes are inefficient and dirty. They produce smoke and soot particles that can pollute the air, irritate your lungs and exacerbate existing heart and lung problems. 

In addition, grilling meat can form two kinds of “potentially carcinogenic compounds:” polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), according to the American Cancer Society. 

“PAHs form when fat from meat drips onto the charcoal. They then rise with the smoke and can get deposited on the food. They can also form directly on the food as it is charred. The hotter the temperature and the longer the meat cooks, the more HCAs are formed.”

As reported by E/The Environmental Magazine, “Both briquettes and lump charcoal create air pollution. Lump charcoal, made from charred wood to add flavor, also contributes to deforestation and adds to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Charcoal briquettes do have the benefit of being made partly from sawdust (a good use of waste wood), but popular brands may also contain coal dust, starch, sodium nitrate, limestone and borax.”

So, what to do if you just want to enjoy your burger or steak and not worry so much?  First, try to use a charcoal that pollutes less. Stay away from those containing lighter fluid, and certainly don’t add any. Buy natural wood briquettes that are made without fillers (and fossil fuels) and maybe even certified and sustainably harvested. Cowboy Charcoal is popular, as is the similar product sold at .  Also, try a newspaper-burning chimney starter to get the grill going with less hassle and waste.

When it comes down to it, if you’re using charcoal, there are other ways to lessen the negative impact and waste too.  “What I would say is that it's not like we're going to kill the planet in the grilling scenario. But probably, the most helpful thing you could do is when you're done [would be to] shutdown your grill and try to reuse what coals are there … pour some water on it and use them again, because you're really wasting it when the rest of it just goes up in the air” advises Johnson. 

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.

Gas is the cleanest option. But whatever grill you choose, remember to always shut it down safely and properly, and never grill on your wooden deck or too close to your house.

Now get out there and enjoy your meal!


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