One thing I love about summer is cooking on the grill outside. Of course that raises the age old question: Charcoal vs. Propane? Which one is better for the planet? Which is better for our health? My answer may surprise you.
From a greenhouse gas (GHG) perspective, if you really want to make a difference it doesn’t matter what you cook with, it is all about what you cook. Switching from hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks to tasty grilled vegetables, fish and chicken will significantly reduce your carbon footprint and is healthier for you.
The CO2e emissions from firing up the charcoal grill to cook a meal are about 10 lbs CO2e. Propane and natural gas emissions for the same grilling session are about half of that. If you cooked 8 quarter pound hamburgers or 4-8oz steaks, the emissions from the meat is about 54 lbs CO2e (source EWG) or more than 5 times the emissions from your cooking fuel. By switching to chicken you cut your footprint by 3/4th. Going vegetarian would cut it so far that it would be even less than the emissions from the burning the fuel to cook it.
You still want to know which is better for the planet, charcoal or propane? It turns out the answer depends. Huffington Post’s Charcoal Vs. Gas Grill: Which is Better for the Environment? explores the issues and explains that charcoal is dirtier but can come from renewable resource while propane emits less green house gasses, it’s a fossil fuel. Earth 911’s Greener Grilling: Gas or Charcoal goes into more life cycle analysis of these two popular grill alternatives.
We usually use charcoal for large parties and propane for a small family meal. When you do grill with charcoal, be sure to use natural lump charcoal and a chimney starter rather than the chemical laden briquettes and/or lighter fluid. Not only can the chemicals add an unpleasant taste to your meal, they are also bad for your health. My trick with the chimney fire starter, which I learned from Alton Brown, is to use one piece of newsprint with a few squirts or sprays of cooking oil on it to get the chimney going. When grilling with propane, be sure to turn off your grill when you are done or taking an extended break from grilling.
So the next time you are going to grill, consider picking some greener items for putting on the grill than the traditional burgers and dogs. The planet and your health will thank you.
Happy Green Grilling!
For more on throwing green parties, check out our post on Greening Parties.
For more on the carbon footprint of the foods we eat, check out the Environmental Working Groups Meat Eaters Guide. For every pound of food consumed, the following are emitted:
- Beef – 27 lbs CO2
- Chicken – 6.9 lbs CO2
- Tofu – 2.0 lbs CO2