With Memorial Day is just around the corner, Americans are ready to start up that grill again. The BBQ, or as we might say on the East Coast cookout, is an all American staple much like apple pie and Memorial Day itself.  Although, the holiday is technically during Spring, it ushers in the Summer BBQ season. But enjoying your grill action doesn’t have to come at the expense of the Earth. In fact, many aspects of the BBQ are harmful to your health as well as the environemnt.

The traditional charcoal BBQ is probably the most harmful of all.  Charcoal contains carcinogens and when ignited spew those, food, and air. Not only can they put harmful chemicals into the air, causing pollution, they can lead to certain forms of cancer.  The harmful chemicals polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) can seep into your foods, which you then ingest. Canada has even taken steps to place charcoal on the Hazardous Products Act and packages must contain a warning label. Unfortunately, the US has yet to do so.

Now, as an American, I enjoy a good grilled vegetable or two, but at what risk to myself and the world? Is it worth it?

Luckily, there are a few solutions. If you have a charcoal grill, you can switch from traditional charcoal to all natural charcoal. There are a few good companies to choose from including Greenlink and Hardwood Lump Charcoal. Both these options do not use chemicals, coal, or fillers. Perhaps one of your best options is the Cowboy Charcoal Co which is sold at almost any hardware and food store (including under the Whole Foods 365 and Trader Joe’s brand, which means many Americans are using this without realizing it). Not only is this charcoal contain no chemicals or petroleum, they are made of  leftover wood from the furniture and construction industries, saving them from landfills.

Another factor which causes both pollution and potentially deadly chemicals to your meal is lighter fluid. Many people use lighter fluid to ignite their charcoal grills, just adding to the already harmful charcoal. That’s right, lighter fluid is wrought with volatile organic compounds, including the same stuff that makes up smog. Yes, you are putting the same nasty air that comes out of your tailpipe into your backyard air and food. Doesn’t sound appetizing does it?

Well at least there are options out there. When you are lighting your grill this weekend, skip the lighter fluid altogether. You can try and light the charcoal the good ol’ fashioned way or opt for a chimney charcoal starter. These are a low cost, easy, and eco friendly alternative to lighter fluid. You can find them at almost any hardware, grocery, or BBQ store and they run from $10-$20. Using these puppies will cut down on your environmental impact and have your grill inflamed in up to 15 minutes!

If you are ready to ditch that old charcoal grill entirely, there are wonderful green options out there. Probably, the most environmentally friendly alternative is a solar grill.  These amazing contraptions will run you about $200, but your pollution and health savings will be tenfold. Rumor has it, these grills don’t quite give your food the same smoky flavor as a traditional grill, but your clear conscious might make up for it. Plus, cooking using the power of the summer sun just sounds so futuristic and cool. If solar is still not in your realm, you can try a gas or electric grill, although they pollute for other obvious reasons.

Now that you are in the know on how to protect your lungs, food, and planet from being devastated by your Memorial Day cookout, get your green grill on and enjoy the sunshine!