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> How to Help Home Good Grills: How to Help

Photo: Charcoal
Photograph by Rebecca Hale, NGS Staff

Charcoal adds flavor (and greenhouse gases) to a barbecue.

The Green Guide: Good Grills

Perhaps the only kind of barbecue that wonít irk Mother Earth is a solar grill. But you wonít find one at the nearest hardware store; only a few websites sell the solar cookers. Thereís no smoke, but there are mirrors, which focus the sunís rays on the grill tray.

None of the familiar fuel sources are as noble as the sun. Gas, electricity, wood, and charcoal each have downsides, but gas puts out the least carbon dioxide.

The charcoal-wood crowd can cut the toll. Fans of woodís smoky flavor might consider a hybrid grill, powered by gas with a small area to burn fragrant wood chips. Charcoalists can seek brands that donít add undesirable ingredients like coal dust, sodium nitrate, and borax. And instead of a squirt of lighter fluid, which emits volatile chemicals, try an old-school chimney starter: a metal cylinder with a small compartment at the bottom for paper. Light the paper and the coals above come to a hot glow.

The price tag matters. A cheap, short-lived grill has a more damaging eco-footprint than a durable solid metal model. Stainless steel and porcelain-enameled cast iron not only outlast but also cook more efficiently than chrome-plated aluminum. Besides, chrome is prone to corrosion. And that definitely doesnít go well with ribs.

Burning Questions: The four main fuel sources for grills all get mixed grades.


Both natural gas and propane are efficient to produce, and natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. But they are nonrenewable resources and give off some pollutants.


Unless sun or wind is involved, itís not as efficient to produce as gas. But electric grills burn cleanly.


Trees are felled. Ash and smoke are exuded. But wood is a renewable resource.


Most is made from leftovers: scrap wood and sawdust. But charcoalís manufacture creates greenhouse gases.

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