What's the most eco-friendly way to grill?

By Ben Weiner
Chapter Communications Fellow

In many parts of the country, September means that grilling season is coming to a close, but here in Virginia our unpredictable weather and fondness for the outside means that some of us grill ten to twelve months out of the year!

I have a pretty good interest in grilling and of course a good interest in the environment, so I did a little research- what’s the most eco-friendly way to grill?

It turns out that the answer to that question is a little complicated. Every method has its advantages and disadvantages and slight differences can completely change the environmental effects of the method. Let’s get started:

1) Charcoal

What many, including myself, feel is the tastiest way to grill can also be the dirtiest when it comes to emissions. Using the wrong charcoal, along with lighter fluid can produce a heavy load of carbon and contribute heavily to ground-level ozone.

If you still desire the flavor and process of charcoal, using lump charcoal, a briquette with limited additives or coconut charcoal are all good ways to reduce the amount of carbon. (Most carbon emissions in charcoal are created by additives in cheaper briquettes) 

Beyond that, using a charcoal chimney is a safer, healthier and more environmentally conscious way to light your charcoal. (You can also make a decent charcoal chimney from a number five can as a good way to reuse.)

2) Liquid Propane/Natural Gas

Gas grills are how most people in this part of the country grill. When it comes to end-user emissions they’re a slam-dunk, producing almost none. But if you take into account the entire process of retrieving and refining the fossil fuels necessary to run them as well as the process to actually get them to the end user, there’s a bit more of an environmental impact.

A propane cylinder is most often retrieved through an exchange program, where hundreds of the 40 pound containers are shipped via big rig throughout the nation. The carbon cost of moving that amount of propane is major.

However, the total environmental cost of grilling with gas is low. So if you get yourself a high-quality well-built model that won’t leak, this is probably the most realistically eco-friendly option.

3) Other options

Believe it or not, gas or charcoal aren’t the only grilling options, and if you’re looking to be eco friendly, you should take all choices into account.

One option remaining is electric- a very good choice for lowering emissions if you have a green source of power like any renewable energy. If not, its actually one of the worst!

The only other option would be a pellet grill- much like a pellet stove, these run off of compressed pellets of scrap wood. Because they use up scraps that would otherwise be discarded, pellets are amazingly environmentally friendly and let out limited emissions when grilling.

So that’s it! A quick reference on the eco-friendliness of grilling! So while the weather is that perfect mixture between hot days and cool nights before the chill of autumn comes down- get out there and enjoy your last few weekends of grilling!

(Here’s some articles I referenced: [1] [2] [3])