Of course buying used vs. new makes a big difference, but in any case, if one is set on purchasing a BBQ grill, is there less environmental impact in the production & use of a charcoal vs. a propane grill?

I figure charcoal doesn't necessarily rely on industrial fossil-fuel based infrastructure to produce it, the way propane does. Therefore in theory purchasing propane is more commitment to fossil fuels and purchasing charcoal is not. But in practice, they are both industrially produced fuels, I imagine with similar impacts all things considered. In terms of equipment, I think charcoal is much simpler with less precision-manufacturing required both at the grill and throughout the production and transportation process of the equipment & fuel.

Lastly, cooking on a propane grill always seems to me a lot like cooking on a regular stove top. I don't know if that plays into environmental footprint considerations here, but it might with stove tops as a natural gas or electric alternative to propane cooking.

  • What environmental impacts specifically are you seeking to minimise? Local air pollution, local smell pollution, carbon footprint? – gerrit Jul 19 at 17:06
  • Good question. Carbon footprint mainly, as it accounts for some of the point-of-use impacts (related to local air pollution) as well as life cycle impacts. – cr0 Jul 19 at 17:57
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    The BBC had an article today on the subject of charcoal - it appears a lot of it comes from unsustainable forest, and so is contributing to deforestation. That's something to take into account... – Nick C Jul 20 at 20:27
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    A bit of a non-answer,... but: I believe the biggest impact is from the substance being BBQ'ed rather then the BBQ-fuel itself. Are we braai-ing bokkies or beets? ;-) – Ideogram Jul 27 at 16:39
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Propane releases 59 kg CO2/GJ, which works out to ~0.06 g/BTU. On a 70000 BTU grill, that's 4000 g, or 4 kg, or 8.8 lbs CO2 per hour.

Natural gas releases 49 kg CO2/GJ, or about ~0.05 g/BTU, or 3500 g, or 7.7 lbs CO2 per hour.

There's are a lot of variation in types of charcoal due to different binders used, but consensus it's that about double natural gas. 15 lbs CO2/hour. On the other hand, charcoal can be sustainably harvested, if it's made from dead wood. If we're taking wood that was decaying anyway and accelerating that decay, it could be carbon neutral or effectively carbon negative (if harvesting prevents decay to methane).

So which is really most sustainable?

Electric grills, of course, win hands down. The Weber Q2400 electric grill gets rave reviews. Thanks to more efficient heating, the 1500 W or 5400 Btu/hr Q2400 can grill a steak as quickly as a propane barbeque of similar size. Electrical heating is efficient and eliminates the cost of buying consumables. It also means you're not cooking your food in the presence of carcinogenic gases, which the combustion byproducts of most fuels are. Even when the electricity comes from dirty fuel sources, there are pollution controls and heat recovery in power plants at an industrial scale that can't exist on consumer equipment.

Miss the smoky flavor? Add some liquid smoke or a smoky barbeque sauce.

If a portable electric grill isn't enough power (and their output is limited by 120V 15A circuits), then look at 240V built-in grills like the 3 kW Kenyon Texan.

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    Great first post, welcome to sustainability.SE! As usual, it seems that going with electric appliances is the lowest footprint route today. – cr0 Aug 30 at 20:40
  • Welcome to Sustainable Living and thank you for your answer! Do you have any references for the numbers you mention? – THelper Aug 31 at 10:19

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