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.”