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electric bbq grill

Electric BBQ Grills - Is it Time to Switch? 

By Rise
Aug 10, 2020

Homeowners are starting to switch out natural gas-powered appliances and going all-electric (see our profile of Bruce Nilles' experience). Why? The main reason for this switch is to support our transformation to a clean energy economy. Electricity can be clean if it comes from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydro. In contrast, natural gas will forever be a fossil fuel and will always impact our indoor air quality. The four appliances typically gas-powered and targeted for replacement are stoves, furnaces, water heaters, and dryers. But what about our outdoor grills? Is it time to give up backyard barbecuing as we know it? Should we replace gas and charcoal for the (usually) less carbon-intensive and low-emitting outdoor electric BBQ grill?

What's the Problem With Gas and Charcoal Grills?

In one word: pollution. One hour of using a natural gas grill can release 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide; that figure rises to 11 pounds for charcoal. According to the US EPA's greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, that's a quarter to a half a tank of gasoline, respectively. A Mother Jones article calculated that if everyone grilled for an hour on the fourth of July, it would add up to "roughly as many emissions as burning 2,145 railcars of coal, or running one coal-fired power plant for a month."

On top of that, natural gas emits and leaks methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas, poisonous carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides, precursors to smog. There are other hazards of charcoal grills, notably their release of volatile organic compounds and the potential toxicity of briquettes soaked in lighter fluid.

Veggie Skewers wlmgpe

What Is an Electric BBQ Grill?

An electric BBQ grill is an outdoor grill that cooks like a charcoal or gas grill but uses electricity. They can provide the same great BBQ taste your accustom too but and, much like traditional grills, allow you to burn hickory, apple, cherry or mesquite wood chips for additional flavor.

What Are The Pros of Electric BBQ Grill?

  1. Ease of use
    Electric grills are easy to set up and can be used in a variety of settings. They are also easy to clean.
  2. Convenience
    Because electric grills are generally more compact, they work well in smaller back yards. A 2009 Consumer Reports lab test cited outdoor electric BBQ grills' convenience. Notably, they said, for condo and apartment dwellers whose buildings may ban the use of gas and charcoal grills. 
  3. Safer to use
    Because there is no flame, injuries and accidents from fires are less likely. If you are the chef, you will also benefit from a cleaner and safer air quality—you won't be breathing in pollutants from natural gas. 
  4. Good achievement of char on grilled foods

According to folks at Delishably, while flavor quality is not the same as charcoal or gas, "the best electric BBQ grills can produce juicy, caramelized, and seared-to-perfection meals." (The reviews on this are mixed, though; it's a subjective topic.)

What Are The Cons of Electric BBQ Grills

  1. Negative reputation for food grilling
    Anti-electric BBQ grill comments can be rabid. A review from the website AmazingRibs.com. points out that even though electric BBQ "devices" are called "grills," food cooked on them is heated by coils that get hot and glow. "There is no combustion, flame, or smoke," the evaluator writes, "so I consider them to be large panini presses or, at best, low-temperature griddles."
    Negative comments also include how long outdoor electric BBQ grills take to heat up or how they provide a sear on food but no smoky flavor.
  2. Power source
    Where your home gets its power can make a big difference in how "clean" the grill is. If, for example, coal is the source of a home's electric energy, using an electric BBQ grill may be worse for the environment than just about any other option. That's why the most significant "con" of electric BBQ grilling has to do with a home's electrical power source. The electric power grid is growing greener. But, the 2019 US Energy Information report indicates that "about 63% of this electricity generation was from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases). About 20% was from nuclear energy, and about 18% was from renewable energy sources."
    Is it true that using an electric grill with non-renewable sourced electricity is the wrong choice? It seems the original contention comes from an Oak Ridge National Lab report of 2003. In it, they stated that "Although electric grills emit no on-site carbon dioxide, West [Tristram West, a researcher in ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division] said they have the highest emissions per hour of all the grills when accounting for fossil fuel emissions from producing and transmitting electricity." Note, however, that this report is from over a decade and a half ago. At that time, renewable energy was only 6 percent of the total US energy produced. In 2017, it was up to 11 percent (source: US Energy Information Administration), and in 2019, it rose to 18 percent.
Grilled Portobello William Sonoma
Grilled Portobello Tacos. Photo Credit: William Sonoma

Rise's Take on Electric BBQ Grills

We are fans of electric grills. First, electric grills have improved greatly and can cook your food the way you want it, and cast iron cooking grates can give you those all-important sear marks. If you need the smoky flavor, there are many ways to add it. Second, electricity can be powered by sources other than fossil fuels—and the electric grid is getting cleaner every year. Xcel Energy is already at almost 30% renewables and has committed to providing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. And if your home is powered with electricity from solar panels or other green energy sources, you are already there.

electric patio char-broil
Char-Broil TRU Infrared Electric Patio Bistro 240. Photo Credit: Amazon

What Are the Best Choices for an Outdoor Electric BBQ Grill?

Char-Broil TRU Infrared Electric Patio Bistro 260

The Char-Broil TRU Infrared Electric Patio Bistro 260 is available for $179; it is nicely sized with 320 square inches of cooking space (enough room for 8-12 burgers. It has 1750 watts of cooking power, porcelain-covered cooking grates, and infrared heat for even cooking sleek design and a temperature gauge for accurate grilling temperatures.  Best Consumer Reviews gives a high recommendation to the Char-Broil TRU Infrared Electric Patio Bistro 260. Amazon reviews warn of complicated assembly and long heat-up times. Several reviewers warn against opening the lid unnecessarily as it leads to heat loss but says meat remains juicy.

weber electric grill
Weber 52020001 Q1400 Electric Grill. Photo Credit: Amazon

Weber Q1400 Electric Grill

A highly rated tabletop model, the Weber Q1400, is available for $269. With 189 square inches of cooking surface, it has good temperature control, easy clean-up, a rolling cart option, and a five-year warranty. Assembly is relatively easy. Reports are that chicken comes out juicy.

george foreman electric grill
George Foreman 15-Serving Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill. Photo Credit: Amazon

George Foreman 15-Serving Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill

This less expensive model mentioned on The Spruce Eats (but not Best Consumer Reviews) is for sale at Walmart for $75. It has 240 square inches of cooking surface and comes on a pedestal that can be a bit tippy. Char marks are said to be a bit hit or miss.

Skewers and Salad

What If You Are Not Ready To Switch To Electric Grilling?

If you cannot give up on gas or charcoal grilling, consider some other possibilities for having a more sustainable backyard gathering:

Grilled Steak

Bottom Line

There's a lot we can do to have a more sustainable outdoor party, especially when we barbecue. And, choosing an electric grill is a great first step, especially if your electricity is from renewable sources. If you want to go off-grid or aim to cut your carbon footprint down to zero, solar barbecue grills might be right for you. 

Maybe that open flame and smoke of a standard gas or charcoal grill are things you can live (and breathe) without!

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-25T23:42:20+0000

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