Low carbon barbecue

Memorial Day weekend and the smell of barbecue is in the air. As you pick up the propane tank to check if there’s any juice left from last summer, you may be wondering about the carbon impact of the outdoor grill. A few thoughts:

The actual grilling process isn’t really the big carbon part of this. If you’re using a propane grill, you’d have to make your way through a whole tank of propane (roughly eight and a half hours of cooking on a modern grill) to equal the carbon emissions of the average daily commute (a little under 50 lbs of CO2).

But if you’re inviting friends round for the inaugural 2008 barbecue this weekend, here are a few other things to think about:

  • Consider transportation. Where are your guests coming in from? Can they carpool? Walk or bike? Take public transportation? Make it easy for them.
  • It’s about what you cook, not how you cook it. Think about your actual ingredients. Meat (and especially beef) has a high carbon content. A recent study found that a pound of beef can take 36 times its weight in carbon dioxide to produce. Diversify your menu choices, and buy local, fresh and organic where possible. Where you can’t do all three… well, let’s not get into the local vs organic debate here.
  • Use reusable plates and cutlery. It might seem easier to use the paper plates, but you’ll look so much more sophisticated if you use the real things and wash them afterwards.
  • Lose the heat lamp. The cool evening air just isn’t supposed to be reheated. We’re doing well enough as it is with global warming.
  • Get a keg. Beer tastes much better from a keg than the bottle or can. Serve it in glasses and you won’t have to worry about emptying out those half-drunk cans when you’re clearing up.

And if you’ve been through all of this and you’re still worried about the impact, Climate Change Chocolate has a day’s worth of offsets bundled in, and we hear it makes great s’mores!

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pete

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  1. lonna richmond - May 21, 2008

    i just had a discussion with someone today about paper plates (which can be recycled) v. washing plates. she claims that in the bigger picture the cost of using water to wash the plates is much greater than using paper plates that come from tree farms and saving the water.
    what’s your take on this?

  2. Adam Stein - May 21, 2008

    The answer, basically, is: it’s complicated. See here for one back of the envelope calculation. A lot is going to depend on your individual habits (how much water do you use to wash?) as well as your geography (how carbon-intensive is your water supply?)
    But as long as you’re not buying new plates specifically for your barbecue, you’ll probably come out ahead.

  3. Pete - May 21, 2008

    It’s worth adding also that you can’t recycle paper that has grease or other “contaminants” to the recycling process. I guess you could compost.
    I still much prefer the idea of a permanent plates, washed sparingly!

  4. julia - May 22, 2008

    This is very useful – thanks!
    However, we have a charcoal grill, not a propane one. And I’m curious how much worse it is to use charcoal – which feels innately more carbon-producing – than gas for grilling.

  5. Howard Fuller - May 28, 2008

    Producing charcoal is indeed very carbon-intensive and pollutes the atmosphere more than almost any other human endeavor, pound for pound. It is made by “cooking” the wood in an oxygen-starved manner that is actually the inverse of a catalytic converter process, intentionally putting CO and unburnt particulates into the atmosphere. The big problem here is that it makes that carbon-intensive steak taste SO much better than propane does!

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