As summer approaches, my mind inevitably wanders to outdoor cooking. It’s simple and seemingly harmless, but grilling food outside can have negative environmental effects. Reduce your impact by making just a few small changes. We’ve had the charcoal vs. gas debate on Re-Nest before, but there are more ways to green your grill than just fuel type (an issue that doesn't seem to have a clear winner).
1. Choose a Better Fuel Source: Charcoal briquettes are often made from a combination of wood scraps, sawdust, coal powder and other additives that act as binders or increase flammability. Burning charcoal gives off carbon monoxide, particulate matter and soot and can contribute more to ground-level ozone. Natural gas burns cleaner and has no ash particle, but it must be drilled, processed and shipped long distances. It is also a methane gas, meaning it has more harmful effects on climate change than carbon dioxide. A good compromise might be to use natural lump charcoal, which is made from 100% woods from responsibly-harvested forests or invasive tree species.
2. Skip the Lighter Fluid: Why add yet another chemical to the cooking process when there are healthier alternatives? Lighter fluid contains toxic petroleum distillates, which produce volatile organic compounds and increase ground-level ozone. A charcoal chimney starter gets the fire going with only newspaper and a flame.
3. Go Solar: A solar stove uses a renewable resource and has no emissions. This flameless device also eliminates heterocyclic amines, a type of carcinogen formed when meats are grilled or broiled at very high temperatures.
4. Choose Cuts of Meat with Caution: If you're grilling meats, choose lean cuts and trim that fat. Carcinogenic hydrocarbons can form when fat from meat, fish, or poultry drips onto hot coals and deposits back onto the food via smoke and flame-ups. Additionally, marinades made with citrus juices, olive oil, and herbs may also prevent carcinogens from forming.
5. End with Natural Clean Up: Once the grill has cooled completely, clean off food residue with a vinegar and water solution or use a baking soda paste for trickier spots.
(Image: Flickr member natashalcd, licensed for use under Creative Commons)