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Tips and Tools for Grilling Green this Summer! Natural Gas versus Charcoal

Updated on July 12, 2010

Serve up your favorite food from the grill in a more Earth-friendly way!! You'll feel great knowing you have helped prepare in the great outdoors with your planet in mind. The food just might taste better, too!

This is a how-to on grilling delicious food and helping the planet by reducing your carbon footprint. I know, I know. Grilling at home has a minimal impact on our environment compared to some large, world-beating machine making companies. Still, isn't it nice to know you're doing your part in helping to keep this planet beautiful for your kids and grand kids? Thanks :) on to find out valuable, green, money saving tips for your next outdoor cooking adventure!

Hello, I'm a natural gas molecule.
Hello, I'm a natural gas molecule.

Grilling Smarter

While the environmental impact of grilling is negligible compared with most of the other things we do in our day, it is important that we take every aspect of our lives into consideration when it comes to combating air pollution and our carbon footprint. By making a few simple changes to the way we grill and the kinds of products we buy, we can make grilling healthier for you and the Earth! Try out these suggestions to make your outdoor cooking more environmentally friendly.

1. Avoid lighter fluids and self-lighting charcoal if at all possible. These release petrochemicals into the atmosphere. Instead, use a charcoal chimney or an electric charcoal starter to get your fire going. You can buy one at Amazon. They are very inexpensive, yet incredibly effective.

2. Choose a superior charcoal. Natural charcoals and lump charcoal made from furniture scraps and waste wood without additives and binders make a cleaner fire that not only reduces your pollution output but improve your grilling experience.

3. Switch to gas grills if charcoal is not really for you. Gas grills are much more energy efficient than charcoal grills and produce far less pollutants. The reason why many people do not use gas because they say it lacks the flavor when comapred to a charcoal grill. (I personally don't notice a huge difference if at all)

4. Switch to a Natural Gas Grill. Many grills have a natural gas option. Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel and burns much cleaner than propane grills. The only problem with natural gas for cooking is that it does not compress nearly as well as propane. On top of that, natural gas is usually delivered to your company via a service and you would need your grill attached to your homes gas line. (Inconvenient)

5. Reduce preheat times. Most gas grills are ready to cook in 5 to 10 minutes. Charcoal takes 15 to 20 minutes to be ready for cooking. Plan your cooking time to correspond to when your grill is ready and don't leave you grill burning any longer than you need to if possible. I know this sounds like common sense, but if you're anything like me, you know that there can be a lot going on at your family cookout and you can lose track of time.

6. Clean your grill while it is still hot after you cook instead of increasing your preheating times. When the grill is cool use a mixture of water and baking soda to clean off the cooking grates.

7. Clean out your grill regularly. Build up of grease and food particles in your grill will produce unnecessary smoke. Also take this time to clean out grease drip trays under your grill.

8. Avoid disposable dishes and utensils for your next cook out. A few minutes washing dishes is better than a pile of paper plates and plastic forks in the garbage. Better yet, you can use your dishwasher for all of the plates and utensils you used for the barbecue. This will save you lots of money over time opposed to buying paper and plastic products. Of course it is much better for the environment as well.

9. Trim excess fats from meat. Not only will this make your grilling healthier and reduce flare-ups and missing forearm hair, but also reduce the release of harmful chemicals from the air. Fire loves fat with a passion, so remember that grilling leaner can also be a little safer.

10. Make informed decisions about your next grill. Unfortunately many grills built today, particularly gas grill, are simply not built to last. Buying a higher quality, longer lasting grill will not only save you money in the long term but reduce the pollution from manufacturing, packaging, shipping and recycling (hopefully) of the grills you buy.

Green Charcoal made by a company called Coconuts
Green Charcoal made by a company called Coconuts

What Do I need to get started?

Quite simply, the Greenest Charcoal.

Charcoal produces more pollution than gas or electric grills, but for many of us the better flavor and versatility of charcoal can make it a hard habit to give up. To reduce the impact of burning charcoal, look for the purest solution. Think about this. A branch falls from a tree in your yard. You leave it to decay.According to the Department of Agriculture here in the good ole USA, the carbon released by this decay is the same as if you burned the wood from the branch. Granted, burning puts that carbon quickly into the atmosphere but the end result is the same. Now imagine that you ground that wood into sawdust, combined it with binders to make it stick together, and then fired it into charcoal. This process adds pollutants to the charcoal and increases the carbon output.

If you were to then add lighter fluid you would dramatically increase the pollution created. By choosing natural, additive free charcoals, or natural lump charcoal you eliminate these additives and therefore make a cleaner fire. You also reduce the chemicals in the smoke that may taint the flavor of the food you cook. (Not a good flavor in case you might be wondering)

Grilling Poll

And your favorite way to fire up your food is?....

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How Should I light my Charcoal?

Light Your Charcoal the Right Way: The EPA lists "volatile organic compounds" or VOC's as a dangerous ozone causing pollutant. Every year Americans alone release over many tons of VOCs into the atmosphere from the 46,000 tons of lighter fluid burned every year. Putting down the lighter fluid greatly reduces the pollution from grilling. Additionally, self lighting charcoal is no better for the air. Your best choice for lighting charcoal is to switch to a charcoal chimney, electric charcoal starter, or use a natural combustion agent like fat wood (see Charcoal Starters). These methods are also safer considering that lighting charcoal is the greatest cause of barbecue related injury (see Lighting Charcoal).

The Greenest Grill: While it is true that a natural gas grill or an electric grill is the greenest grill from the perspective of air pollution it must be considered that grill durability is a major issue for the outdoor cook. Replacing a cheap grill every three or four years does far more damage to the earth's resources than buying a grill designed and built to last for many more years. When you consider manufacturing, packaging, shipping and disposal (hopefully recycled), the short life expectancy of many grills made these days poses a significant impact to the environment. Buy quality products, take good care of them, repair as needed, and don't replace them until necessary. I would think long and hard into considering the durability of the products you buy. A few more dollars now could save you more in the stretch. (Saving $$ AND Landfills)

When it comes to charcoal grills, look for one that can be shut down. This means that when you are done grilling you can close the vents and the lack of oxygen will put out the fire saving the remaining charcoal for your next cookout. When its time to light up the grill again all you need do is shake off the ashes, add a little more charcoal and light. This lets you control how much you burn and reduces the amount you spend on charcoal. Careful management of the charcoal you burn can save you a lot of money and be good for the environment.

How to use a Charcoal Chimney

The Wrap-up

Grilling IS Green:
Want a good burger? Grab the family, jump in the car, drive to your favorite burger joint, spend too much money, and then drive home. How much energy and time did you spend? The answer is obvious. LOTS!

Buy fresh meats and vegetables and grill them up without having to unpack all that "stuff" they sell in the middle of the store. (Namely, the freezer section)

Additionally, grilling lets you turn off the stove and oven reducing your electrical usage. Since about 7% of the electricity used in the U.S. is renewable you can cut down on your electric bill and reduce pollution from power plants. So fire up the grill and put the guilt aside!

Enjoy yourself at your next Barbecue with your new-found information!

I hope you have found my article on Green Grilling useful. Thanks for reading!

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    • happyfaktor profile image

      happyfaktor 7 years ago from Boston

      Thanks for reading, Lady!

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      Very enlightening Hub and Vegetables taste nicer when they are grilled. (well in my opinion)

      Thanks for the useful tips. One to Bookmark.