Trial by Fire

The Carbon Footprint of Barbecue

Who says science is no picnic? To assess the carbon footprint of barbecues, Eric Johnson rounded up eight volunteer grillers (including himself) and held the equivalent of 50 cookouts.

The researchers used both gas and charcoal grills and kept tabs on their fuel usage, the length of time they grilled, and the amount of food they cooked. Johnson, of Atlantic Consulting in Gattikon, Switzerland, then included those numbers into a life-cycle analysis of each grill type.

In the end, charcoal turned out to have a far-higher carbon footprint than gas. The researchers concluded that charcoal grilling sessions typically carry a footprint of 6.7 kilograms—roughly the same as driving a car 35 kilometers. Gas grilling, by contrast, produces just 2.3 kilograms of CO2 per session.

One key reason for the disparity: producing charcoal is a carbon-intensive proposition that involves harvesting wood and heating it to 300 to 500 degrees Celsius. Also, charcoal grillers typically use the same amount of fuel, no matter what they’re cooking, while it’s easier to vary the fuel output of gas grills. ❧

—Justin Matlick

Johnson, E. 2009. Charcoal versus LPG grilling: A carbon-footprint comparison. Environmental Impact Assessment Review DOI:10.1016/j.eiar.2009.02.004.

Photo: ©Dandanos/Dreamstime.com

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