July 2, 2008

Take Your Backyard Grilling Upscale

If you think you've got skills with the grill, it's time to put them on display. But before you head out back, check out the latest and greatest for outdoor entertaining.

From sleek new designs to earth-friendly options, backyard barbecuing has reached a new level of sophistication.


For those wondering how to make grilling more environmentally sound, look no further. Rick Browne, international barbecue expert and author of a new cookbook, "The Best Barbecue on Earth" (Ten Speed Press, $22.95) offers simple yet effective tips for "green" barbecue.

"For those eight out of 10 U.S. households owning a grill or smoker, incorporating environmentally friendly barbecue products and methods is essential," says Browne. "But still being able to enjoy delicious barbecue dishes is equally important."

Browne's essential ways to reduce carbon footprints from barbecue grilling:

1. Cook with gas if you can. With by far the lowest carbon footprint among fuels used to cook food in backyard barbecues, propane, or its cousin, natural gas, has many economic and environmental benefits.

2. Do not use ordinary charcoal briquettes. The most popular brands emit 105 times more carbon monoxide than propane, release more greenhouse gases than wood and send lots of harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air. Use green products such as the 100 percent organic natural briquettes produced by Lokkii.

3. Use organic fire starters, chimneys and lint. If you must use lump charcoal or briquettes, do not use liquid starters; they are among the most toxic substances and contain petrochemicals which contribute to global warming. If you need a liquid fire starter, use an organic brand.

4. Shop and buy locally. Buy local products, including your backyard beverages, thereby saving fossil fuels. Think of the amount of fuel and the huge carbon footprint needed to fly or truck products from other regions of the United States to your hometown, or to fly in products from overseas.

5. Use natural cleaning products. When cleaning up the barbecue pit and food preparation areas of the kitchen, don't use ordinary chemical cleaners. Clean up green with a natural cleaner such as Orange Plus (made from orange oil, which is free-rinsing, phosphate-free, biodegradable and penetrates hard-to-remove grease and grime), or SoyClean's BBQ Grill Cleaner (a safe, natural, soy-based, non-toxic USDA-approved product) that rinses away with water, to soften and loosen the char, grease and burned residue on the grill.

6. Never use plastic bags when you shop. They can take 1,000 years to biodegrade in the dump, and trillions of them are produced every year. Instead, carry along your own tote bags. One cloth or hemp bag used for one year will replace upward of 300 plastic bags. Or, if you must use plastic bags, recycle them.

7. Use biodegradable or compostable plates, bowls, bags and utensils when barbecuing or picnicking away from home. A good example is the Stalkmarket brand, which fashions its plates, bowls, platters, cups and utensils out of a byproduct of sugar cane production. The Stalkware products decompose in 4 to 6 months on your compost pile. Or use Bambu all-occasion bamboo veneerware cutting boards, plates, bowls and utensils, which are made from the highly renewable material. Bamboo is one of the earth's fastest-growing plants, needs no replanting, grows without fertilizers or pesticides and is harvested from controlled stands with an astounding growth cycle of three to five years.

8. Use cloth napkins. They can be washed and reused time after time. Inexpensive kerchiefs and bandanas come in all colors. Also, use natural laundry soaps and fabric softeners and air-dry items.