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

I fear I don't have the resources to back up this answer, but the main problem with burning charcoal in a BBQ would be the local air pollution in the form of 'particulate matter'. Open wood fire, which I believe burning charcoal ultimately is, are a very larges source of local air pollution in a city, comparable to that of gasoline trucks.

On the other hand, if you don't live in a city, maybe it doesn't matter that much.

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