Greener Grilling: Make Your Backyard Cookouts Better for You and the Environment
Barbecue grills can stay in use throughout the year in the Ojai area, but summer is the official grilling season, which makes this the perfect time to talk about making our backyard barbecues healthier for us and the planet.
Cookouts provide the perfect platform from bringing together friends and family to catch up, lounge by the pool, indulge in a meal cooked over an open fire and more fully enjoy our home's outdoor living areas. Previous generations gathered around the grill without giving much thought to the potential health or environmental risks associated with dousing charcoal with lighter fluid and dining on charred steaks. However, we have more recently learned that those blackened bits of meat, abundant smoke and chemical-laden products are not so great for us or the environment.
Outdoor parties, in general, can wreak havoc on the planet with disposable party supplies, toxic pesticides to keep the bugs away, petrochemicals released from lighter fluid, charcoal and wood smoke polluting the air, and fat dripping onto the grill causing more smoke and pollution. And, of course, there are also the carcinogens and harmful compounds from eating foods cooked at high heat over an open flame that accumulate in the body and increase health risks.
Rather than give up grilling and resign ourselves to cooking indoors, all we really need to do is adopt greener grilling practices that are better for our guests and the environment.
Here are five tips to get you started:
1. Choose a Greener Grill
The grills that are currently considered greenest are solar-powered, corn-burning and hydrogen-powered grills. Of course, these are also the most expensive and hardest to find. It is much easier to find propane grills, which are eco-friendlier than charcoal grills, but if you can spring for a natural gas grill or an electric grill, that is even better. If you have a charcoal grill with which you are not quite ready to part, you can go greener by switching from conventional charcoal to natural or lump charcoal, or you can use plant-based ethanol disks, which are a greener option.
2. Skip the Lighter Fluid
The use of lighter fluid is responsible for the release of tons of volatile organic compounds into the air every year in the U.S., and self-lighting charcoal is not any better. While these two options might be the most convenient, it is actually quite easy to light your charcoal using a charcoal chimney or electric charcoal lighter. Using an inexpensive charcoal chimney is your greenest bet.
3. Maximize Your Grill Usage
Firing up your grill just to cook a steak or two is a waste of whichever type of fuel your grill requires, but you can easily adopt a greener grilling practice by always making it a point to make the most of the heat you create with your barbecue. When barbecuing, cook your entire meal on the grill and make enough to have leftovers for at least a couple of days to reduce future fuel needs.
4. Go Organic (and Local)
Purchase local, organic meats and produce whenever possible to reduce transportation-related pollution and energy and to lower the amount of harmful substances you feed your family (and put into the air, soil and water supply). Grilling more vegetables and less meat is another way to easily make your next cookout healthier and more environmentally friendly.
5. Keep Your Grill Clean
Regular care and cleaning will extend the life of your grill and, in the case of charcoal or wood grills, it also shortens the time it takes to preheat your grill and reduces the amount of smoke your grill emits. With any type of grill, fat and food that falls below the grate can cause excess smoke as well, but you can avoid this by regularly removing any buildup. Cutting extra fat off meats before grilling them can also reduce smoke production and makes for a healthier meal for your family and friends.
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