It's hard to say what the best part of Memorial Day Weekend is: the opening of the pool, the extra day of weekend, or firing up the grill for some burgers and veggies. Certainly, millions of Americans will be preparing the perfect burger this weekend, using gas, charcoal or electricity. But which type of grill has the smallest impact?
First, let's talk about why it matters. Memorial Day is the second-biggest grilling day of the year, after the Fourth of July - according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, 56 percent of Americans will be firing up the grill this weekend. The barbecues held on the Fourth of July consume enough energy to power 20,000 households for a year, says the Sierra Club. "Emissions from barbecuing are certainly dwarfed by those from transportation and industrial burning of fuels," noted Tristram West, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy. "But this information should get people thinking about all the things they do on a regular basis."
So how do the various grills add up?
Wood and Charcoal - The dirtiest kind of grill - but also, to some, the grill that produces the best-tasting barbecue. Says the Daily Green: "Burning charcoal or wood produces clouds of sooty particles that can lodge in lungs, irritating asthma and other respiratory problems. Carcinogenic volatile organic compounds like benzene are released. The whole mess can contribute to smog." But if you love that smoky flavor, use lump charcoal instead of briquettes - it burns cleaner.
Gas - Your best choice. Gas burns cleaner and more efficiently than electric or charcoal grills, and isn't as bad for air quality as wood and charcoal grills.
Electric - Little-used electric grills emit no on-site carbon dioxide, but they have the highest emissions per hour of all the grills. According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory: "A liquefied petroleum gas grill operated for an hour would emit 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide while a charcoal grill would emit about 11 pounds. An electric grill would account for about 15 pounds of carbon dioxide."