Backyard chefs believe that food cooked over an open fire is especially tasty because the juices stay concentrated in the middle and the surface becomes seared with smoky flavor. Cookouts may well be the quintessential summer pastime but can be unhealthy for people and the planet.
Burning charcoal briquettes pollutes the air. The smoky flavor in charcoal comes from charred wood and contributes to deforestation. Charcoal briquettes are made from sawdust bound with a type of glue and may also contain limestone, sodium nitrate and coal dust.
Lump charcoal is made from natural hardwood and will generally produce far less ash. Natural wood charcoal will light very easily and does not contain fillers and are therefore free of chemical pollutants.
Charcoal lighter fluid is a petroleum distillate that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs.), which contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone when mixed with other air pollutants in sunlight. VOCs can cause health problems in people with respiratory disorders and heart disease and for anyone who works or exercises outdoors. Lighter fluid may also deposit toxic residue on grilled food.
A charcoal chimney starter gets your barbecue grill going fast without the use of lighter fluid. This device is a wide metal cylinder with a charcoal grate mounted on the inside, air vents at the bottom and a heatproof handle. Unlit charcoal is loaded onto the grate and crumpled newspaper is tucked around the bottom. As the lit newspaper burns, it lights the charcoal above, which burns through to the top due to the updraft chimney effect. video demo
Electric grills have no open flame, which makes grilling with them a better choice for air quality in and around the grill. Without an open flame this might not be considered actually barbecuing. Many would question the source of the electricity, which could be more damaging to the environment in the long run.
Gas grills are thought to be a better, if perhaps not perfect choice. They use propane or natural gas, believed to be only mildly noxious. Gas is a non-renewable resource and there are concerns regarding the environmental damage caused in the production of natural gas.
What to Grill
The food we put on the grill is also a source of some concern. Several studies have shown that grilling meat will cause carcinogens to form, increasing the risk of developing cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, grilling meat will produce two types of potentially carcinogenic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and heterocyclic amines (HCA.) PAHs form when fat drips onto the charcoal and rises with the smoke seeping into the food. The formation of HCAs, develop further as food is charred and increase the longer the meat cooks and the higher the temperature.
Health conscious cooks choose healthier alternatives
Grilled Marinated Tofu on the Barbie!
Hearty Tempeh Kabobs
Marie Oser is a best-selling author, writer/producer and host of VegTV, Follow Marie on Twitter: http://twitter.com/vegtv
 Afsaneh Farhadian, S. Jinap, Faridah Abas, Zaidul Islam Sakar. Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in grilled meat. Food Control. May 2010; (21)5:606-610
 Sinha, Rashmi, Peters, Ulrike, Cross, Amanda J., Kulldorff, Martin, Weissfeld, Joel L., Pinsky, Paul F., Rothman, Nathaniel, Hayes, Richard B., Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Project Team, Meat, Meat Cooking Methods and Preservation, and Risk for Colorectal Adenoma Cancer Res 2005 65: 8034-8041