Summer’s here and even in lockdown barbecues are back on the menu. There’s no getting around it, they’re not great for the environment – an al fresco picnic is a much greener way of chowing down in the great outdoors. But if a summer sizzler is firmly on your agenda, there are things you can do to lessen its impact. Here’s how to stay climate conscious while cooking up a storm.
1. Ditch the disposables
Disposable barbecues might be convenient, but they require a huge amount of resources to make and they’re a nightmare to recycle. Instead, invest in a solid reusable model that will last for many summers to come – or you could build your own. Gardener’s World has a really easy how-to guide that only involves bricks and cement.
2. Figure out the fuel
Unless you’re using a gas barbecue (which are relatively uncommon in the UK) you’ll almost certainly be grilling on charcoal and wood. But a lot of charcoal and wood products created for barbecue use come from unsustainable sources, often imported from abroad and coated in chemicals to help it burn better. Choose UK-made sustainable charcoal instead – look for the ‘Grown in Britain’ symbol or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo. Or, if you have barbecues regularly, you might consider investing in a briquette maker, which compacts old paper into logs for the fire.
3. Manage the meat
Barbecues are synonymous with burgers and hotdogs, but it’s no secret that meat consumption is bad news for the planet. Bump up the veggie choices: instead of a sad-looking salad, be a little more inventive and include more veg on the grill itself. There are also a huge range of vegan burgers and sausages available that could pass a taste test with your most sceptical friends. You could even try some sustainably-caught fish, which grills wonderfully. If you must have meat, opt for good quality, locally-sourced organic options. And plan ahead – knowing how many people you’ll be catering for will help you limit your food waste.
4. Cook efficiently
Grill as much at one time as possible. The more you cook at once, the more efficient you’re going to be with the energy you’re using (but make sure everything has enough space to be cooked thoroughly – food poisoning will not make for a happy summer memory!). If you have a hooded barbecue, keeping the lid down while cooking makes the process even more efficient. You can also make use of a cooling barbecue to grill a fruity dessert – wrapped peaches or pineapple is a wonderful sweet treat that pairs well with ice-cream.
5. Douse the flames
If you’re cooking with charcoal or other briquettes, don’t let the coals continue to burn after the last burger comes off the grill. The fire will reduce the coals to ashes, leaving no reusable charcoal for the next time you have a barbecue. Instead, close the grill and shutter the vent as soon as you’re done cooking, and you’ll have leftover charcoals for next time. If you don’t have a closable grill, extinguish flames and heat with water and spread the remaining charcoals out so they can dry out ahead of your next event.
6. Say no to paper plates and plastic cups
It’s tempting to serve food on paper plates and drinks in disposable plastic cups, but you’ll be doing the planet a huge favour by investing in some more durable alternatives. You can pick up melamine plates and heavy-duty plastic glasses from a variety of stores that can be reused time and time again. Ditto plastic knives and forks. It’s not really that much of a headache to bring out the metal ones from the kitchen drawer, is it? If, however, the prospect of washing up after a big get-together is too daunting, at least consider sustainable options such as palm leaf plates and bamboo cutlery. And for all the bottles and cans have recycling bags or boxes prominently displayed so things don’t end up in the bin.
7. Keep it clean
Look after your barbecue and it’ll serve you well for many summers, instead of becoming scrap metal in landfill. You’ll get most of the gunk off it if you scrape the grill while it’s still warm – letting fats and oils solidify on to the metal will mean you’ll have to use some fairly heavy-duty chemical nasties to get it clean later on. Once the grime is off, scour it with a mix of baking soda and water, and it’ll be good to go.
The bottom line
Barbecues are a summertime staple for most of us, especially when the sun is out and temperatures start to climb. But they can have a very significant impact on the environment. It’s our love of the great outdoors that means we want to have a barbecue in the first place, so show it some respect by making your grilling as green as possible.
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