Living Green: Grilling Green

Photo: Heidi Ridgley / Defenders of Wildlife

Photo: Heidi Ridgley / Defenders of Wildlife

by Heidi Ridgley

When the weather warms, Vitro Hilton, like so many of us, can’t wait to get his grill on. A vegetarian, he already has come a long way in reducing his carbon footprint.

But this spring, standing over his charring veggie burgers and skewered vegetables on the back deck of his Washington, D.C., home, he says he couldn’t help but wonder if there was a way to grill outdoors without standing in a cloud of soot. “I realized that’s something that can’t be good for my health or the environment,” he says.

And he’s right. Burning charcoal and wood briquettes not only produces particles that can irritate your lungs and contribute to smog and global warming, but it even releases cancer-causing volatile organic compounds. However, Hilton says he’s not quite ready to swear off the sizzle, and you don’t have to either.

“While not perfect, grills that use electric, propane and gas all burn cleaner and more efficiently than charcoal or wood,” says Aimee Delach, Defenders’ climate change expert.

But if you can’t bear the thought of chucking the charcoal, check your local natural food store or buying club for all-natural brands made from sustainably harvested wood, invasive tree species or untreated wood scrap. There is even a type sourced from renewable coconut shells. All are better for your health and the environment than burning conventional charcoal, particularly the kind soaked in petroleum-based lighter fluid to make them light easier. “Forego the lighter fluid as well,” says Delach. “If you can’t, look for ethanol-based options, which burn cleaner.”

As for Hilton, he says first he’s going to use up his current bag of briquettes. “I like my charcoal, I really do,” he says. “But now that I’ve looked into it, I’m pretty sure I’m going to invest in a propane or gas grill.”  

More Articles from Summer 2011

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Wolves always seem to get the short end of the stick in Alaska, where politicians often shoot first without even bothering to ask questions later. But that wasn’t the case this time.
One of the world’s most far-sighted environmental laws took a serious beating in April when Congress and President Obama quietly stripped federal protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies.
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Endangered Cook Inlet belugas finally have something to smile about: the long-awaited designation of more than 3,000 square miles of critical habitat that scientists deem essential to their survival.
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