✔ The greenest option, a flameless solar oven – Flameless solar ovens are smoke-free and cook food wholly with the sun’s energy. They will allow you to have healthier cookouts that are free of emissions. Because solar ovens rely on the strength of UV rays to cook food, it may not be possible to reach sufficient cooking temperature if the sun is blocked by clouds or lower in the sky. Be sure to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your meats, especially poultry.
✔ Use eco-friendly tableware – Avoid the use of disposable plates or silverware. If unavoidable, try to find paper plate made from recycled materials and biodegradable utensils.
✔ Serve organic and/or locally grown food – By serving organic and locally grown food you will reduce the overall environmental impact of your barbecue.
✔ Choose an eco-friendly grill – Grills come in many shapes and sizes and use many different kinds of fuels. The most common types of fuels include propane, natural gas (a grill hooked up to your home’s natural gas supply), charcoal, electricity, and wood pellets.
- Gas Grills – Gas grills are the greenest way to grill (besides the solar oven). Gas grills can be fueled using liquid propane gas (LPG) in a portable cylinder or natural gas that is delivered through underground pipes. As a fuel, LPG is much more efficient than charcoal in its production and considerably more efficient in cooking. In fact, the carbon footprint for charcoal grilling is almost three times more than LPG grilling.
- Charcoal Grills – While charcoal grills will give you that authentic smokey barbecue flavor, it comes at higher environmental and possible health cost. During cooking, a charcoal grill will emit greenhouse gasses and carcinogenic fumes. The majority of the environmental problems reside in the charcoal itself. Charcoal is produced by heating wood in a kiln. The commercial yield of charcoal is only in the 20-35% range, which means the majority of the wood is converted to gas and emitted into the atmosphere at the time of production. In addition, petrochemical products are either incorporated into the charcoal itself (self-igniting) or are sprayed onto the coals at time of use to aid in ignition.
- Electric Grills – Surprisingly, electric grills are less eco-friendly than even charcoal grills (unless you get your power from wind or some other renewable source). Operating an electric grill for an hour generates approximately 15 pounds of CO2 (due to all the greenhouse gases emitted by power plants), compared with 11 from a charcoal grill. In addition, as much as 34% of the energy generated by power plants is wasted during production and as it gets transmitted over utility lines.
- Wood Pellet Grills – Wood pellet grills optimize electricity but accommodate small amounts of charcoal and wood for flavoring purposes. With respect to greenness, they probably fall somewhere between charcoal and electric grills.
✔ Choose natural lump charcoal – Charcoal comes in two main forms, briquette and lump. While these products seem similar, there are vast differences from an environmental perspective.
- Briquettes —The charcoal briquette commonly contains additives such as sodium nitrate. Self-igniting forms also use petroleum solvents as accelerants, which can be harmful to one’s health if not fully burned off before cooking. Briquettes usually burn cooler and more consistently than lump.
- Natural Lump — Lump charcoal, commonly made from natural sources (i.e., from trees) or from processed wood (such as wood scrap), contains few or zero additives. Seek out brands certified by the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program or find ones that are created from sustainably managed sources, invasive tree species, and rapidly renewable sources like bamboo.
✔ Avoid lighter fluid – Use an electric or chimney charcoal starter instead of lighter fluid. These options reduce ground-level ozone levels and avoid exposing yourself and others to potential carcinogens.