How to Grill and Stay Green

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Green grilling

By Jodi Helmer

Burgers, corn on the cob, asparagus, chicken skewers, eggplant—done right, grilling is one of the best parts of summer. But there can be some health and environmental pitfalls. Luckily, with a few pro tips and strategies, you can enjoy your grill guilt free.

Choose the Best Grill

Of the most common types of grills, gas is the cleanest option, emitting about 5.6 pounds of CO2 per hour compared to 11 pounds for a charcoal grill and 15 pounds for electric. But if you’re ready to invest in a new grill, consider a solar cooker. They can be pricey, and might take longer to cook your food, but solar cookers burn zero fuel.

Change Your Charcoal

If you’re sticking with your charcoal grill (or cooking on a grill at a campsite or beach), look for briquettes made from invasive trees or wood harvested from sustainably managed forests. These eco-friendly alternatives to traditional charcoal—such as Coshell Charcoals (made from coconut shells) and Whole Foods 365 Hardwood Charcoal (made from lumber industry waste)—produce the same char-grilled flavors without the airborne toxins.

Go Organic/Local

What you put on your grill also makes a difference environmentally. Support farmers and the Earth by purchasing local, organic produce at farmers markets, and making it the center of your meal. “Fruits and vegetables have a lower carbon footprint than meat,” notes registered dietician-nutritionist Vicki Shanta Retelny, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies. Buying locally grown produce is also a win-win because you minimize shipping, and you get the most flavorful food, since it’s picked at peak ripeness.

Mind the Meat

For those times that you can’t resist a burger, cook it carefully. Meat cooked at high temperatures forms chemicals called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or HCAs and PAHs, which can increase the risk of some types of cancer.

To minimize the health risks, choose lean cuts of meat, avoid charring, and pre-cook meats before tossing them on the grill to lessen their exposure to high temperatures, advises registered dietician Colleen Doyle, managing director of nutrition and physical activity, prevention and early detection for the American Cancer Society. While grilling, “Don’t pierce your meats,” Doyle adds. “There is evidence that when fat drips on coals, the smoke that is formed contains PAHs, which may get deposited back on meats as the smoke surrounds the meat.”

Compost Leftovers

Instead of tossing half-eaten food or kitchen scraps like corn husks in the trash, add them to the compost pile. This keeps them out of the landfill, where they’re a potent source of methane emissions. There are even compostable dinnerware options, so you can avoid wasteful plastic.