BEN’S ZONE: Barbecue and Pollution, What’s the Deal?

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Welcome to a weekly feature on my blog – Ben’s Zone. Written by husband… Ben. A foodie, coffee obsessed, ex-smoking, ex-drinking and Ridgeback loving Dad. Who is also seriously into his fitness.  You can find him on the blog (mostly) on Sundays. Enjoy!

Barbecue and Pollution, What’s the Deal?

Barbecue and Pollution, What's the Deal? - Assorted delicious grilled meat with vegetable over the coals on a barbecue

I’ve blogged many times about my love of the barbecue and that hasn’t waned. This year, for the first time, I do find myself asking whether or not it’s still ok to fire up the grill in terms of air pollution.  There’s a new wave of environmental consciousness rising up and while I may be just caught in the zeitgeist, it’s making me think about the impact I’m having with my actions.  It’s a cliche but we really are just custodians of the planet.  So I saw the plume of smoke winding up from the grill last time I had a barbie and I wondered, should I really be doing this anymore? 

So I did a bit of research and the bottom line is, charcoal barbecues (my personal preference) aren’t great for the environment. Charcoal isn’t a hugely clean burn and the windy black smoke is black because it’s got a lot of carbon in it, not great.  Gas on the other hand is a really clean burn so it’s basically carbon dioxide and water being produced when the fuel burns.

For both fuel types you can reduce impact by cooking as soon as your fuel is up to temp.  On gas this can be as little as 10 minutes, for my charcoal grill it’s probably nearer an hour.  For both though, it’s easy enough to tell and so for minimal impact it’s easy enough to time ignition so that it’s up to temp at the right time to start cooking.  That’s assuming your guests arrive on time of course.

It’s a minor thing but on both gas and charcoal grills you can reduce impact yet further by not burning fat, so trim down any meats before grilling and make sure you cook on a clean grill.  Both of these will lead to better flavour anyway.

I am, however, such a fan of charcoal that I won’t be giving up anytime soon.  What I will be doing is making sure I’m burning a nice clean fuel.  You’d be amazed at the amount of rubbish that goes into charcoal, from wood shavings to old bits of furniture which can lead to all manner of nastiness in the smoke.  I do prefer briquettes as you get a much more even cooking temperature however I’ll be making sure I buy decent stuff from here on in, it’s got to make the food taste better.  Likewise it will burn more easily and so it should be easy to cut out petrol based accelerants.

I think the most important thing though is just not to grill every single weekend.  Yes, it’s tempting to get out into the sun every weekend we can in the UK but that doesn’t have to mean a barbecue, it can be just as much fun to eat food outside that’s been cooked inside and, with that in mind, if I’m minimising the impact and only grilling every now and again, I don’t think it’s a big problem

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