Gas vs. Charcoal BBQs: What's Greener?

Gas vs. Charcoal BBQs: What's Greener?

Kathryn Wright
Jul 21, 2010

Now that we're in full swing of BBQ season, we're considering which is the greener way to cook and adding fuel to the age-old gas versus charcoal grilling debate. After a few rounds of battle we've come up with a winner:

Round One: Resources
Charcoal briquettes are made of wood, which is a good and bad. Wood is a renewable resource but poor forestry management is bad. There are greener charcoal briquette options including Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and making use of scrap wood products. Propane and natural gas are byproducts of petroleum processing.
Winner: Charcoal Briquettes.

Round Two: Manufacturing
As noted above propane and gas are byproducts of petroleum processing. Charcoal briquettes are manufactured through a long complex manufacturing process, and it does take a lot of energy to manufacture them. Choosing a winner in this round comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils, which we are going to give to charcoal since petroleum drilling, transport, and processing are so intensely terrible for the environment.
Winner: Charcoal Briquettes.

Round Three: Health & Air Quality
Charcoal briquettes emit much more carbon dioxide into the air than natural gas or propane when BBQing. Food grilled on a charcoal grill may also create carcinogenic compounds, and this is generally due to low-end manufacturing and harsh chemicals, so look for eco-friendly all-natural briquettes if possible. To get even more specific natural gas is considered to be a greenhouse gas, while propane is not.
Winner: Propane Gas

Round Four: Taste
Did you really think we would go there?

And the winner is...
Charcoal Briquettes.
The bigger picture suggests that a product derived from wood vs. one derived from petroleum processing is a greener choice. There are several options and potential for a cleaner charcoal briquette. At the end of the day this is a complicated issue that is difficult to measure. This is just one opinion, so feel free to comment with your own conclusions below.

(Image: Girlin Gears Studio)

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