Green Grilling: Make Your Next Barbecue Experience Better for You & the Environment
In some areas, summer does not officially start until the weather has warmed up enough to roll the barbecue grill out of storage and start grilling again.
In other areas, great weather that lasts throughout the year makes any season a good time for grilling.
Either way, cooking outdoors is part of the foundation of outdoor living, and is an essential part of fully enjoy the exterior living spaces of our homes.
One of the great things about grilling is that it brings people together in an uplifting atmosphere where adults can catch up on the latest gossip, kids can play in the swimming pool and all can enjoy a festive meal cooked over an open fire.
Another great thing about grilling is that it can be enjoyed by everyone, including die-hard meat eaters, vegetarians and gluten-free folks.
But what was once a worry-free weekend activity to partake in with your family or friends has recently come under fire for being not so great for your health or the environment.
It turns out that the aromatic smoke we love to smell as it wafts over us from grilling beef and chicken is filled with carcinogens and damaging compounds that accumulate in the body, increasing our risk for developing health issues later in life.
Health experts have also let us know that the blackened chunks of charred meat beloved to those who crave a well-done steak are also bad for our health.
But the issues with grilling do not stop there.
The effects our outdoor summer parties have on the environment are just as serious as the potential health risks of dining on food cooked at high heat over an open flame.
Charcoal and wood smoke pollutes the air, lighter fluid releases petrochemicals, pesticides used to keep insects away from our guests are filled with toxic chemicals, and disposable plates, napkins, utensils and cups end up in local landfills.
Even the fat that drips from the meat as we grill it makes extra smoke and releases even more chemicals into the air.
But this does not mean that you have to hang up your Kiss the Cook apron and give up grilling for good.
However, it does mean that you might want to check out the tips below to learn how you can lower your carbon footprint and make your next cookout a healthier affair for all.
Choosing the Greenest Grill
Grilling is a popular American pastime that is a mainstay for certain holidays and a regular weekend activity for many whenever the weather allows.
Most families already have a grill and may not be in the market for a new one, but you can green your grilling with or without investing in a new grill for your home.
If you currently have a traditional charcoal grill with which you just cannot part, you can have a healthier, more eco-friendly grilling experience by staying away from conventional charcoal and opting for lump charcoal or natural charcoal instead.
If you choose natural charcoals that are made from wood scraps and do not have the binding agents and other additives common to conventional charcoal, you will put out less pollution each time you grill.
The better choice is to switch to a gas grill, which means fewer pollutants and increased energy efficiency.
Propane is better than charcoal, but natural gas or opting for an electric grill is even better.
If you want to go even greener, you can choose a solar-powered grill, a hydrogen-powered grill, a corn-burning grill or disks that burn plant-based ethanol and can be used in your current charcoal grill.
Of course, some of us just cannot give up the preferred smells and tastes that only charcoal can deliver, so choosing the greenest charcoal options available is the way to go, if this pertains to you.
Just keep in mind that burning wood or charcoal for your outdoor cooking needs produces pollutants and particles that can increase respiratory problems, cause cancer and contribute to air pollution.
If you plan to invest in a new grill, keep in mind that frequently replacing your grill is bad for the environment – due to the materials, energy used during the manufacturing process, packaging and transportation involved in making new grills.
Look for the highest-quality, most durable grill your budget will allow to ensure a positive grilling experience and a longer use cycle.
Make sure you keep your grill clean and in good repair, which will help to extend its life as well.
When you do replace your grill, sell, give away or donate your old grill to avoid having it end up in a landfill.
Letting Go of Lighter Fluid
One of the biggest problems with charcoal grills is the lighter fluid that most of use to light them.
While self-lighting charcoal is just as bad when it comes to pollution, lighter fluid use releases tons of volatile organic compounds into the air each year.
These pollutants are bad for the environment and bad for you, so letting go of your love of lighter fluid is an important step in adopting greener grilling practices.
To effectively start your charcoal fire without using lighter fluid, you can opt for an electric charcoal starter or a charcoal chimney starter, which are widely available anywhere that sells grills.
The most earth-friendly way to light charcoal is by using a charcoal chimney, which will also save you money over time, since you will no longer need to purchase lighter fluid.
Greener Grilling Practices
Once you have chosen a grill and a type of fuel, the next step in greening your grilling is to change the way you do things during the actual act of cooking outdoors.
One important part of this is properly caring for your grill.
Not only does proper care and cleaning mean a longer life for your investment, it also means shorter preheating times and less smoke (if you use charcoal or wood).
You can clean your grill with a simple solution of baking soda in water mixed to form a paste, so there is no need for chemical-laden grill cleaners.
Whether you use charcoal or gas, dripping fat and bits of food can find their way below the grates and cause excess smoke the next time you grill, so make sure you avoid buildup with frequent cleanings.
When planning to grill meat, make sure you cut off any extra fat beforehand.
While the sizzle of dripping fat might be appealing to some, burning fat causes more smoke and releases chemicals that you do not want around your family.
Here are five more ways you can adopt greener grilling practices:
1. Make the most of the heat you create by making enough leftovers to feed your family lunches or dinners for the next few days.
2. Try to purchase local meats and produce to reduce the energy and pollution caused by transporting foods.
3. Buy organic when you can to avoid exposing your family to toxic chemicals and to help keep these chemicals out of the soil, air and water supply.
4. Grill more veggies and less meat to have a healthier feast with a lower environmental impact.
5. Never fire up the grill just to cook meat, which is a waste of whichever type of fuel you use.
Instead, cook your entire meal on your grill, including your vegetables, beans and garlic bread.
Embrace Your Inner Eco-Friendly Party Planner
When we dine indoors, we do not seem to mind washing dishes, separating recyclables, and using cloth tablecloths and napkins.
But all of that seems to go out the door as soon as we step outside for an alfresco dining experience.
It may be how the number of dishes increases with the number of guests, how the chance of dishes breaking increases or that most of us consider outdoor cooking to be a bit of a vacation from our regular meal preparation and cleanup routine, but even the eco-friendly among us seem to lean towards disposable party supplies when we dine outdoors.
One of the best ways you can make your next barbecue a greener event is by eliminating single-use party supplies from your plans.
If you stop using paper plates, plastic cups, paper napkins and plastic utensils, you can significantly reduce the amount of waste your next gathering contributes to your local landfill.
Not to mention, you also reduce the demand for these products, and the energy, water and materials that go into manufacturing them, packaging them and transporting them.
If you do not want to use your everyday plates and glasses, you can pick up cheap goods at a local thrift store and dedicate them strictly for use while grilling, camping or picnicking.
By buying secondhand, you are not contributing to the demand for new products, and you won’t mind if a clumsy guest drops one on your patio.
If thrift stores are not your style, you can also pick up inexpensive plates, glasses, cloth napkins and silverware at your local dollar store.
While this is purchasing new products, it is still better to use these reusable options in place of disposable ones.
If you simply do not want to wash dishes after your party, then you can at least opt for compostable party supplies that you can toss in your backyard compost pile, instead of the trash can.
As part of your party planning, make sure you plan for multiple waste receptacles that make recycling easy and convenient for your guests.
Everywhere you have a trash can, make sure you also have a clearly labeled bin for recycling, and one for compostable goods.
You can go even greener by making your own soda with a home soda-making machine, which means no more aluminum cans or plastic bottles that need to be recycled after the event.
Use Natural Pest Control Methods
No one wants flies buzzing around the food, ants threatening to make off with the fruit or mosquitoes eying their guests as their next meal.
Because of this, most of us are quick to employ bug sprays and insect repellants that are full of toxic chemicals.
These really are not necessary when you can ward off insects with completely natural methods.
Growing insect-repelling plants, such as mint, marigolds, rosemary or sage, in patio containers or your garden will help keep ants and other pests away.
You can also toss a bit of sage or rosemary on the grill to produce mosquito-repelling smoke.
Citronella oil candles can be strategically placed on tables to ward off insects as well.
If ants or other pests are a serious problem in your backyard, you can also amp up your natural pest control by scattering bay leaves or cucumber peels around your outdoor entertaining space.
Final Thoughts on Greener Grilling
You can expand your efforts to create an eco-friendly grilling experience by opting for earth-aware bamboo grilling tools, environmentally responsible patio furniture and textiles, and eco lighting options, such as solar-powered pathway and patio lights.
Grilling is green by its very nature.
When you cook fresh foods and prepare meals from scratch, you avoid the packaging and unhealthy ingredients of prepackaged dinners.
When cooking outdoors, you also avoid the use of electricity or gas that comes with preheating and using your stove and oven, as well as the increased energy needed to cool your home after cooking heats it up.
Grilling foods properly using healthy oils, keeping a focus on increasing the amount of vegetables you grill and reducing the amount of meat is a fun, easy way to feed your family healthier meals.
There is no reason to miss out on this favorite pastime when you can reduce the negative impact grilling can have on the planet and your health by making a few simple changes to your grilling routine.
Switch to reusable party supplies, eat local and organic meats and produce when possible, opt for the greenest grill you can buy and keep pests away naturally.
This will make your next get-together a healthier, more environmentally responsible event.
Do you have a favorite green grilling practice?
If so, share it with us in the comments below.
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