grilling outside

Grilling hearkens back to the inception of food transformation itself. Without overlooking its value in being able to bring people together over food, the sheer volume of adamant grillers (80 percent of Americans own a grill!) may be causing some friction for the environment.

You may not want charcoal in your stocking, but on the grill it’s everyone’s sweetheart. The use of burned scrap wood sounds more environmentally sound than using a petroleum-powered gas grill, but charcoal grills can actually be pretty noxious.

Those bags of beady black briquettes are filled with additives that burn off and hang around in the backyard air like lingering mosquitos. This particulate matter can be irritating and potentially carcinogenic. Charcoal grills can also contribute to ground level ozone, aka smog.

All types of grilling release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but gas grills cut this figure in half, and also produce less smoke and particulate matter. Of course, their fuel is non-renewable but energy-efficient models are available. Electric grills aren’t any better from a lifecycle perspective unless your house runs on solar. Consider the following so that we can preserve this tradition in harmony with our surroundings:

Lump charcoal: this type of charcoal is pulled from the processing sooner and doesn’t contain those irritating additives. Avid grilling environmentalists may be interested in certain brands made from sustainably harvested wood or lumber mill waste.

Chimney starter: lighter fluid just exacerbates those polluting properties of charcoal. Invest in a chimney starter instead.

Pellet grills: A nifty contraption, these function more like smokers and use more sustainable and unprocessed waste wood. They’re also quick to start up and impart a hardwood flavor to the food.

— By Emma Laurie McLeod, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Amy Frasieur, MS, RD, core faculty in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.