The green way to BBQ

Photo: DHM Group

We hear a lot about how bad the BBQ is for the environment. But you don't have to give up your Sunday BBQ — there are some enviro-friendly alternatives out there.

We hear a lot about how bad the BBQ is for the environment. But you don't have to give up your Sunday BBQ — there are some enviro-friendly alternatives out there.

Ancient engineering
The greenest grills on the market these days are ceramic cookers based on a Japanese rice cooker called the mushikamado. Dubbed kamado, (Japanese for stove) this ceramic BBQ is quite simple: heat is trapped in its thick clay walls as the tight-fitting lid seals in the moisture. Food is cooked with a hot humid smoke with a consistent temperature controlled by vents at the top and bottom. Since it draws less air, it uses less charcoal even though temperatures can reach up to 500 degrees Celsius (1000 degrees Fahrenheit).

Eggheads unite
Currently the most popular cooker is the Big Green Egg (BGE), named because it looks like a big green egg when sitting on its cart. BGE has been improving on the basic design since starting up in 1974 and offers an almost flawless product in several sizes with tables to match. A permanent non-toxic porcelain glaze is bonded to the ceramic, making it fade-resistant. Best of all it's self-cleaning, making it the perfect griller, smoker and BBQ for many people. Eggheads (as devotees call themselves) even have their own forum to swap recipes and tips.

Tandoor intelligence
The Grill Dome is another company offering a ceramic cooker with the mechanics of the Tandoor oven from the Punjab region of India. This cooker combines seven natural ceramics and guarantees optimum performance and durability with any conceivable temperature or in any weather. While similar to the BGE, the Grill Dome is slightly lower in price and claims to cook faster. Both are easily started with newspaper, getting rid of the need for that toxic BBQ starter. Controlling the top and bottom vents to adjust the temperature, humidity and smoke can take some getting used but fans say once you get the hang of it you'll never look back. Meat, fish, fowl and even pizza take on a whole new flavour. Hard-core users even grill in the dead of winter with their kamado.

A good lump of coal
The perfect compliment to your ceramic cooker is natural lump coal. This is a much healthier and efficient charcoal than charcoal briquettes, which contain any number of unhealthy ingredients like sodium nitrates, borax, and benzo(a)pyrene. There are two basic types of natural charcoal. This first type is made from leftover trees and branches from the sawmill. The second type comes from scrap wood used in buildings, flooring and furniture. Both kinds are heated at high temperatures without oxygen so everything but the carbon is burnt off. Since it is nothing but wood carbon, natural charcoal tends to burn hotter and faster but can still be easily regulated for heat, unlike briquette charcoal.

If you can't decide on which charcoal to use you can always visit The Naked Whiz for their comprehensive Lump Review and charcoal database. Basques, located in Quebec, uses a similar process but uses primarily sugar maple from regulated forest regeneration programs. Maple Leaf Charcoal is made up of a combination of three woods: beech, maple and yellow birch and smells heavenly. The most enviro-friendly charcoal is Kothur, a charcoal briquette made from pressed coconut husks with starch as a binder. It offers a predictable and uniform heat similar to wood charcoal. Even if you don't use a ceramic cooker, you can make the switch to natural lump charcoal and not feel guilty at your next BBQ.