Grilling gets greener

Throw chicken, seafood, or vegetables on the barbie

June 4, 2009

With Memorial Day behind us, grilling season has officially commenced. But the debate over the healthfulness and eco-consciousness of grilling has been heating up for months. So in the spirit of one of my favorite summer activities, I devote this month’s column to a brief discussion of how to make grilling slightly greener.

I love a good, juicy, grass-fed hamburger, but I can’t ignore all the recent talk about the negative effects of meat production on the environment. A 2006 United Nations report, for example, stated that the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to global warming and greenhouse-gas emissions, beating out the combined contributions of planes, trains, and cars. And an article published in the Washington Post last month quoted food writer and activist Michael Pollan explaining that if we were to leave meat off our plates just one night a week, it would equal taking “30 to 40 million cars off the road for a year.”

grilled shrimp
Grill less meat this summer; try shrimp on the barbie instead.

From a pure health perspective, grilling with dry heat is one of the best cooking methods around. Grilled items are generally lighter on the fat content and lower on the calories. There is some concern around grilling and cancer risk from carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that can develop from the interaction of meat and high heat. Red meat, primarily beef and lamb, tends to pose the greatest threat; poultry and seafood follow behind. Thankfully, you can easily decrease any carcinogenic risk with a few simple steps: lower the heat of the grill and allow meat to cook a bit longer (the char on meat is what causes most cancer concern), cut meat into smaller pieces (think kebabs here), and flip meat frequently. Also, marinating the meat helps.

So, make a simple, light marinade; add fresh herbs or a spice rub; and you’re ready-set to fire.

But can you make your grill choices even better?

Consider making more responsible selections when you’re next at the grocery store or farmers’ market selecting something to grill. Red meat is the prime culprit when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions and land and energy use, producing four times as many emissions as chicken and fish, according to a study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Try swapping that burger or steak once a week for a turkey burger, chicken sausages, pork chops, chicken thighs, shellfish, or a nice fillet of fish. Choosing a leaner cut of meat, poultry, or fish will promote heart health, low cholesterol, and a healthy weight.

Go veggie for an evening and grill up the best produce summer has to offer. A vegetable-based meal is a light and nutrient-rich alternative. As Thomas Jefferson once stated, “Meat is best used as a condiment to vegetables.” Pretty much any vegetable can go on the grill: eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash, mushrooms, sweet onions, corn, potatoes. Brush your favorite vegetables with extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and maybe a fresh herb or two, and toss them on the fire. You could even try grilling fruit, such as peaches and plums, for a light summertime dessert.

Marissa Lippert is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in New York City.

Related recipe: Grilled Scallops with Fresh Corn and Tomato Relish

There are 5 comments on this item
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1. by Ed Bruske on Jun 4, 2009 at 12:32 PM PDT

I wonder how many greenhouse emissions we could save if people stopped eating beans. Or, how do beef emissions stack up against all the gas released by wildlife. Should we get rid of that, too. Or maybe just take public transportation. Or walk.

2. by Richard Yarnell on Jun 10, 2009 at 2:30 PM PDT

This is primarily to columnists who limit their definition of poultry to chicken, duck, and turkey: bring back the rabbit.

When it acomes to being earth friendly, the rabbit is the most efficient of all domesticated food crops. It thrives on small amounts of grass and requires little in the way of grain supplements. A 10 or 11 pound doe, conservatively managed, will produce on average 32 off-spring each year. She’ll do this on a steady diet of only 9 ozs of high quality grass or alfalfa that can be fed as pellets. She is comfortable in about 12 sq ft of enclosure. The juveniles will be harvested at a gross wt of around 5 pounds dressing to 3. The skeleton is very light so most of that is edible wt. We’re looking at a 10 pound adult rabbit producing around 90 pounds of dressed meat each year
feeding on grass and water.

The meat is low fat. Most of a rabbit’s fat is carried on the skin. Any body cavity fat will encase the kidneys. It’s versatile, easy to prepare, and nutritious, to say nothing of tasty. It resembles white meat of chicken, slightly finer grained.

When I was a kid in the late forties and early fifties, I managed 200 breeding does and sold all the rabbit they would produce to packing houses, restaurants, and neighbors. During the Depression and WWII, almost everyone with a back yard had a rabbit hutch. It may be that rabbit became associated with hard times. Believe me, it does not deserve to be banished from the table.

So cooks: find rabbit and promise not to overcook it (140-150 internal is plenty). Columnists: Unite to bring back a demand for domestic rabbit as the ecologically correct, easily produced, and nutritious source of protein and pleasure it can be. Good roasted, bbq’d, fried, as a curry, en brochette, as a meat in soups and stews,...

Richard Yarnell
Beavercreek OR

3. by Mark on Jun 11, 2009 at 8:49 AM PDT

Hey Marissa,

Great article about green, healthy grilling. Another way to green you grilling is to use a renewable source of energy like ethanol as the heat source. I work for FlameDisk, and we do just that. The FlameDisk is 100% recyclable and made from renewable ethanol. There’s also 99% less carbon emissions from the FlameDisk vs. traditional charcoal, and in third party blind taste tests consumers were unable to tell any difference in taste.

Check out the FlameDisk.

If any have any questions or comments, please contact me through morgan/at/



4. by anonymous on Jun 11, 2009 at 11:50 AM PDT

I’d love to add rabbit into my meal planning, but I don’t have a local source and I’m not currently up to raising them myself. Thanks for the idea though; someday it will come to something.

5. by anonymous on Jul 13, 2009 at 3:23 PM PDT

Great post! You really can cook anything on the grill. Thanks for greening this process :)

Be sure to check out the new video series “Weber Grill Master”. Grilling experts Jamie Purviance and Steven Raichlen compare notes on grilling techniques, what inspired these classically trained chefs to pursue the art of cooking with live fire, and find out what led to their biggest grilling mistakes.

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