Gas Versus Charcoal

Grill a Little Greener

If either gas or charcoal grills were a clear environmental winner, the decision of what to use would be much easier. But it’s not that straightforward. Charcoal grills release about twice as much carbon dioxide per hour as gas grills do, roughly 11 pounds versus 5.6, says the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But charcoal comes from trees, which absorb carbon as they grow, making the emissions net zero. Still, groups like the Sierra Club advocate gas grills because they are cleaner burning.

Though there doesn’t seem to be an obvious ecofriendly choice when it comes to what fuels your grill, there are still a few things you can do to lessen the environmental impact of your weekend barbecue.

Use Nontoxic Cleaners
It’s best to clean your grill with a heavy-duty grill brush and some elbow grease, but if you’re going to use a spray-on cleaner, go for one that’s nontoxic. Two options are SoyClean BBQ Grill Cleaner and Simple Green Heavy Duty BBQ & Grill Cleaner.

Buy Sustainable Charcoal
If you’re buying lump charcoal, look for brands like Wicked Good, Nature’s Own Chunk Charwood, and the Original Charcoal Company, which are made from sustainably harvested wood. Lazzari also produces a 100 percent mesquite lump charcoal made from prunings, dead and fallen wood, and selectively harvested wood.

If you opt for briquettes, avoid instant-light varieties—they’re soaked in petroleum products—and conventional briquettes that use fillers like coal dust and petroleum binders. Greenlink makes briquettes from waste coconut shells and a food-grade binder. Wicked Good sells a briquette made from the same sustainably harvested wood as its lump charcoal.

Grill Good Food
What’s on top of your grate is just as important as what’s underneath it. Try to use seasonal, local, and organic produce and meats. For ideas on how to shop for ecofriendly meat, check out our tips for environmentally responsible carnivores. And don’t forget, you can use your grill to make tasty vegetable-based meals out of things like Grilled Corn with Cayenne, Lime, and Cotija; Grilled Greek Salad; and Stuffed Poblanos with Black Beans and Cheese.

Put Down the Lighter Fluid
There’s no need to use toxic lighter fluid to ignite charcoal when you can use a chimney starter. They’re simple: Stuff some old newspaper in the bottom, fill the top with charcoal, and light the paper. At around $10 to $15, they’re also cheap. Plus, your food won’t have any off flavors from unburned lighter fluid residue. Check out this video to see a chimney starter in action. You can also make one out of an old coffee can by removing both ends, using a church key bottle opener to cut holes around the bottom rim, placing the chimney on top of your grill, and proceeding with the newspaper, charcoal, and ignition.

If you opt for briquettes, avoid instant-light varieties—they’re soaked in petroleum products.