Charcoal Is Out. What's In - and Eco?

Featured Member Post

If you're still grilling with charcoal, I've only got one question for you: Why?


Sun oven

Sun oven

Most grills use either natural gas, propane, charcoal, or electricity. Of these options, charcoal emits more carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and soot than any of the others.

"Charcoal grills and lighter fluid also contribute more to ground-level ozone [smog]", says Ana Gomez, of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, not exactly the ambience you're looking for when you invite friends over for a cookout.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives?

• Go solar. A solar stove like the Global Sun Oven pictured love cooks more slowly and won't get you the same grilled flavor. But it can't be beat for an environmentally-friendly, clean-cooking cookout, and you'll never buy charcoal or other cooking fuel again. Cook casseroles, veggies, tofu, and maybe a few marshmallows. Of course, you'll need direct sunlight for the time it takes to cook your food. Read the cooking directions that come with the oven for best results, then see what works best in your yard or on your porch or patio.

• Choose a gas grill over charcoal. If you already use natural gas to heat your home or power your appliances, you may be able to hook up a gas line directly to your grill. The convenience of not needing to refill propane tanks may outweigh the cost of the hook-up. Otherwise, choose propane, which also burns cleaner than charcoal. This website lists dozens of grill choices by brand. NOTE: Don't buy a larger appliance than you need or you'll end up wasting energy and money.) You can get small, portable propane grills to use at the beach, camping, or for tail-gate parties.

• Use lump charcoal instead of briquettes. Briquettes may contain coal dust and other additives. Look for hardwood briquettes from sustainably- managed forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program.

Chimney charcoal

Chimney charcoal

• Trade in your lighter fluid. These toxic petroleum distillates produce volatile organic compounds that create smog. No sense ruining your skewers or burgers with an air quality alert, is there? Instead...

Try a chimney charcoal starter. Tuck crumpled newspaper into the bottom of the canister, load charcoal on top, and light with a match. You'll be able to pour hot coals onto the fire grate in about 15 minutes. Alternatively, use an electric starter. (Chimney charcoal starters are cheap! $10 - $15).

(You can find several of these products, along with other things you need for summer, at our store.)

For more information, get your own copy of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World. Sign up for our free newsletter tips at

Photo of charcoal grill by Brian Hart/Flickr


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