THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

My family and I love to grill in our backyard all summer long.  If the weather allows it, we’re out there almost every night!  Our old charcoal grill is, well, old and tired, so we’re thinking of purchasing a new one for the season.  We would like it to be as environmentally friendly as possible, especially because we use it so often.  What are your thoughts on the best grills to buy?

Thanks,

Louise

THE ANSWER:

Hi Louise,

Thank you so much for your question, and lucky you to have a backyard for daily grilling and more.  Us city dwellers are very jealous.  This is a hot topic as the days are getting longer, the weather is warmer, and July 4th is fast approaching, but there are a lot of issues to consider before lighting up those coals.  In The Conscious Kitchen I explain the ins and outs of grill use:

No one can deny the allure of an open fire.  Cooking outside makes sense when the weather is warm, but there are a number of things to scrutinize before you grill.  Foodies have long debated the merits of charcoal versus gas.  Gas, a nonrenewable resource, is a convenient and controllable way to cook on an open flame, but where taste is concerned, charcoal always wins.  Environmentally speaking, though, charcoal is worse than gas.  Among other negatives, charcoal promotes deforestation (it is made from trees) and pollutes the air as it burns.  This might not seem like a big deal if you’re the sort who grills once in a blue moon, but think about how much pollution gets collectively released into the air on a day like July 4.  According to an article in the July/August 2005 issue of Sierra magazine, an estimated sixty million barbecues are held on this holiday, during which Americans burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and release 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.  Research has shown that in areas where people grill often, fatty acids in meat smoke can contribute to hazy skies.  Fat smog!  If you aren’t prepared to give up grilling, it’s good to be aware of the impact it can have on both your health and the environment and to minimize it however you can.

THE LIST: GRILLS

A sliding scale of choices from best to worst:

-Solar cookers (not technically grills) cook outside using nothing but the sun’s energy

-Electric, natural gas, and propane: they burn cleaner and are more efficient than charcoal or wood

-Hybrid grills, using as little natural charcoal or wood as possible

-Natural charcoal and hard wood, using a chimney starter

AVOID: Conventional charcoal, charcoal containing lighter fluid, and lighter fluid in general

I have more on each of those choices, and the nitty gritty on why lighter fluid must always be avoided in the book. And don’t forget about what you’re putting on the grill (i.e. local veggies and well-raised meat), the plates you’re eating off of (preferably reusable), and how you’re cleaning up after dinner (natural cleaners, please).

Who has tried a solar cooker? Curious!