Q:I need a new BBQ. Are there any eco-friendly options?
A:Given the hellish temperature of my kitchen, there's no way I could have made it this far into the summer without an outdoor grill. It was that or takeout, and BBQing is definitely the greener way to go. Especially if you do it right.
Anyone with a deep yearning for mesquite or just a super-low budget knows the allure of the hibachi. For under 20 bucks you've got yourself a functioning open-air kitchen. What more could you want, right? Unfortunately, the most wallet-friendly option is also the dirtiest. Charcoal and wood send soot and smog-inducing carbon monoxide into the air. That applies to both lump charcoal (which is basically unprocessed charred wood) and the pillow-shaped briquettes (made of scrap wood and sawdust). The briquettes may contain coal dust or hidden chems left over from the scrap wood, but the lump kind contributes to deforestation. You just can't win.
Whole Foods on Avenue Road carries its own "365" brand of hardwood charcoal that uses scrap wood from the furniture biz but is purportedly free of additives, coal, chems or fillers (from $4.99). Or think tropical and get some coconut shell charcoal. Though hard to find, this stuff burns without smoke, odour or harmful emissions. The only place we spotted that sells it is Kathur on Lakeshore in Etobicoke (416-836-9292, $8/5kg bag, free delivery in GTA). It should be in stores such as Canadian Tire and Home Hardware next summer.
Of course, dousing your coals with lighter fluid not only makes your food taste horrid but also sends ozone-depleting VOCs into the atmosphere. Instead, get an electric BBQ starter ($14.99 at Canadian Tire or Home Hardware) or a chimney starter (a metallic cylinder that uses lit newspaper to fire up coals, $15.99 at Sobie's Barbecue and Appliance Parts on Willowdale).
Another problem with cheapie BBQs, whether they burn charcoal or propane, is the grill itself. More often than not, low-grade models use chrome-coated aluminum, which chips easily, leaving you with a bare aluminum cooking surface. Not good for the brain cells.
You're safer with a cast iron or stainless steel grill. The porcelain-coated kind, which is the most common, is also good. None of these will rust, and they should last you.
In terms of fuel sources, your cleanest, most energy-efficient bet is either natural gas or liquid propane (which is extracted from natural gas). In fact, backyard 'cuing with either of these is more efficient than cooking in your kitchen oven, which takes forever to pre-heat. Don't get me wrong - natural gas is no saint (think offshore drilling and piping through traditional native lands), but I've yet to encounter a barbie that runs on vegetable oil. An electric BBQ run on solar panels would definitely win the green ribbon at the country fair - that is, as long as it doesn't have a Teflon-treated non-stick surface.
Got a chunky, gunky grill caked with last June's basting sauce? Skip the super-toxic chem-based cleaners. Nature Clean makes all-natural BBQ spray (from $5.29 at Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth, Whole Foods and Noah's on Yonge, Bathurst or Bloor).
Not up for the task? Call an eco-conscious BBQ cleaning service! Barbeque Pro scrubs your grimy Q with orange-based degreasers (starting from $115, 416-925-9585). It also runs an organic barbecue catering service (yes, a chef comes over to grill up tasty organic meats and veggies) if you're having a party and don't have time to cook.
If dishes are out of the question at that backyard bash, make sure to pick up biodegradable, compostable disposable plates, cups and cutlery from Grassroots (from $4.99/25) as well as napkins or paper towels made with high post-consumer recycled content (from $2.69 at Big Carrot on Danforth, Whole Foods and Grassroots). Cook potatoes or delicate fish grill-top in 100 per cent recycled aluminum foil ($6.49 at Whole Foods). And, of course, pass the organic ketchup.
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