Green grilling: tips for a sustainable barbecue season

Green grilling: tips for a sustainable barbecue season

Summer is finally here, at least where I live, and I am making the most of it by spending as much time as possible outdoors. That includes dinner time, so a lot of the food I am eating right now is barbecued (or grilled, as we like to say in Sweden). When a friend asked me how sustainable grilling actually is, I got to wondering, and then I got to investigating.

My research suggests that there are three main areas that affect the sustainability of your barbecue. Here’s what to think about if you want your, Midsummer, Fourth of July, or regular summer grill-out to be as good for the planet as it is for you…

The equipment

Disposable barbecues (engångsgrill) are really popular in Sweden but are not great for the environment. As with most disposable things, they use up precious resources and generate waste for something that we use for just a short time. Many parks, beaches and tourist spots now have public barbecues, which are a great alternative to disposables. If nothing is available where you are going to be, what about borrowing, renting or buying a preloved barbecue for a lower environmental impact?

If you already have a barbecue, make sure that you care for it properly so that you don’t have to replace it. Clean it after every use to remove grease and store it indoors or under a good fitting cover during the winter months.

Disposable plates, cups and glasses are also popular at barbecues. These are disastrous from a waste perspective because they are typically made from or coated with plastic, which means they do not break down naturally and almost certainly can’t be recycled. Using your regular plates and cutlery is a much more sustainable choice. If you need unbreakable ones, reusable plastic is a better choice. If you don’t have them, maybe you can borrow or rent them. Or why not ask people to bring their own.

The fuel

Gas is a better choice of fuel than charcoal in terms of emissions. One study calculated that a gas barbecue emits about 2.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide per hour, compared to about 5 kilos per hour for charcoal. Gas is also more efficient than charcoal. About 90 percent of propane makes it out of the production process as useable fuel, compared to only 20 - 35 percent of the source wood that goes into making a charcoal briquette (the rest burns off into the air). Neither charcoal nor gas powered barbecues are especially sustainable choices because gas and charcoal are not renewable resources. A solar barbecue or an electric one powered by renewable energy would be much more sustainable choices.

However, if you already have a charcoal barbecue, don’t despair, you can still make your grill a little greener by using lump coal instead of charcoal briquettes. Lump coal gives off less carbon monoxide and soot than charcoal briquettes and it is not made by chopping down our forests, so it’s a slightly better choice.

The food

A German study showed that, in a barbecue for eight people, more than 90% of the greenhouse gases emitted (including for the production and disposal of the grill) were due to the choice of food! That means you can make a huge environmental impact by making better food choices.

The worst things to cook, in terms of CO2 emissions, are beef and cheese. More vegetables will improve the sustainability rating of your grill-fest in no time. If it has to be meat then pork or lamb contribute less to global warming and deforestation than beef but, quite simply, the less meat the better.

Fish is a delicious alternative to meat. Ben Spice, head chef at Acorn House and Water House, two of London's most environmentally friendly restaurants, suggests farmed tilapia fish or arctic char.

Unlike lots of farmed fish, tilapia is not fed dried fishmeal (which could have come from all sorts of untraceable, endangered fish), but sustainable organic matter. Similarly, farmed arctic char, a pale pink fish halfway between salmon and trout, barbecues well and is also fed on traceable fish meal.
— Ben Spice

Squid is also a great choice. It’s probably the most sustainable seafood choice at the moment because we have overfished their natural predators and they are multiplying rapidly, according to Henry Dimbleby, founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

You can find tons of great recipes for barbecue vegetables online but Henry Spice has one great suggestion to whet your appetite: “Try wrapping a whole globe artichoke in foil and cooking slowly in olive oil and its own juices."

Cover image: @marius_dragne

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