Fire up the grill
Summertime, and the grillin' is easy. But is it clean? Which is a cleaner choice for grilling: gas or charcoal? The subject has been hotly debated, and seems unlikely to end this summer.
From a culinary point of view, smoking wood gives grilled foods the best flavor. A sprinkling of water-soaked hickory or mesquite chips thrown onto the grill (gas or charcoal) will provide better grill flavor than any amount of briquettes or lump charcoal. The smoke that comes from dripping fat as it burns on hot coals gives acrid, unpleasant tastes.
But that still doesn't settle the gas vs. charcoal controversy. One scientist was cited in The New York Times Magazine as saying that, while burning charcoal produces more carbon emissions than natural gas or propane, the carbon was offset by the carbon-consuming properties of the tree used to make the charcoal during its lifetime.
But by that logic, the green plants that existed millions of years ago, which are now being mined as fossil fuels, should offset the burning of petroleum.
Charcoal and wood grills definitely put more carbon into the atmosphere during cooking than gas grills. Gas is certainly the cleaner choice.
Charcoal devotees can still make a difference by choosing charcoal made from wood certified as sustainably-harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council, a forest protection organization (FSC). The FSC has also certified Char-Broil brand products, but they don't seem to sell charcoal, so I'm at a loss as to what exactly the FSC is certifying. But the certified coal is guaranteed not to have come from the destruction of endangered rainforests and mangroves.
Another way to make a difference is to skip the lighter fuel, a petroleum product that produces a great deal of pollution when it burns. Instead, use a chimney-type charcoal starter and a balled-up piece of newspaper, which lights the coals more quickly and evenly than fluid. You'll be eliminating the waste associated with buying can after can of lighter fluid, and re-using spent newspaper at the same time.