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Solar Barbecue Grills: A Healthier Way to Host Summer Grill-Outs

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Dec 30, 2019

Nothing speaks of summer like a warm evening, a yard full of friends and neighbors, and the smell of barbecue drifting through the air. Summer barbecue parties are a great way to enjoy the company of friends and family. However, the fuel we cook with is a hidden side to grilling that is rarely considered. 

The gas and coal-fired grills that adorn our patios also have a sizeable carbon footprint associated with greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuel energy. Homeowners can increase the environmental friendliness of their home's outdoor area by opting for sustainable outdoor furniture. Might there be a healthier and more ecologically responsible way to host those delicious barbecues?

This article looks at the environmental costs associated with gas and charcoal grills and then at the unique alternative of solar-powered barbecue grills. Finally, we offer a complete review of a few of the top solar barbecue grills on the market today. 

What’s Wrong With Gas and Charcoal Grills?

A 2009 article published in the Environmental Impact Assessment Review by Eric Johnson found that charcoal grills have several times more carbon than gas grill counterparts. Essentially, if you run a new, energy-efficient gas grill for an hour, you will be releasing an average of 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. The bag of charcoal briquettes needed to keep that same grill hot for an hour release upwards of 11 pounds of CO2. 

While charcoal grills may offer a supposed taste advantage, they also release volatile organic compounds and particulate matter into the air surrounding the grilling area. If you are grilling outside on a windy afternoon, that shouldn't be much of a concern. If your charcoal grill is placed in the corner of your patio where airflow is high, there may be some health concerns for the master griller and others in the area. 

Another problem is that charcoal briquettes are frequently soaked in lighter fluid or other chemicals to help quicken getting the fire started. Besides sometimes ruining the taste of a delicious barbecue, lighter fluid can also lead to poisoning—in the rare case of the liquid getting onto the meat you are grilling. Lighter fluids can contain hydrocarbons such as benzene, butane, hexamine, or propane, all of which can cause serious health problems if ingested. 

Charcoal grills emit relatively high amounts of ground-level ozone, which can lead to urban smog. The haze in the air the morning after the 4th of July is often attributed to fireworks displays, though the thousands of grill-outs all occurring simultaneously also play a role. 

A natural gas-powered grill offers a slight environmental advantage over charcoal in that it emits fewer greenhouse gases. However, natural gas is a fossil fuel, which means it cannot be a part of a carbon zero home. In addition to carbon dioxide, burning natural gas releases other unhealthy fumes, such as nitrogen oxides, leading to smog. And, extracting and transporting natural gas results in methane leakage, a much more potent global warming gas.

On the other hand, Charcoal comes from trees (it is made primarily from wood waste products and sawdust), and when managed sustainably, it can be more carbon neutral. When analyzed from the perspective of the total carbon cycle of a given product, the carbon emissions released by burning charcoal can be canceled out through sustainable forest management. Trees and forests act as a sink for the carbon floating around in our atmosphere. 

Solar Powered Barbecue Grills

Most people only grill during the summertime. The thought of standing outside in the winter takes some of the joy away from the experience. The warm summer temperatures, along with direct sunlight lasting into the late afternoon, have led several companies to experiment with the idea of using the energy from the sun for grilling out.

What Are the Benefits of a Solar Powered BBQ?

Solar-powered grills have the unique advantage of grilling, boiling, or frying entire meals, adding a layer of diversity to your outdoor parties. The best-designed grills can work even during cloudy afternoons or in those last autumn days when temperatures begin to dip. How do solar-powered grills work? They use vacuum tubes incorporated into solar grills to capture the energy and heat from the sun while acting as a perfect insulator to avoid heat loss.

Most grilling companies continue to churn out gas, electric, and charcoal grills. There are a few innovative and visionary companies that have begun to experiment with unique solar barbecue grills. Here’s a look at three options.

GoSun Grill
GoSun Grill

GoSun Grill

The GoSun Grill allows you to bake, boil, or steam, or grill a meal for up to 8 people using only the natural, renewable energy of the sun. It can easily reach temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit even during cloudy days, and the company claims that the outdoor temperature has little effect on the heating capabilities of the grill. The grill weighs around 30 pounds and is incredibly compact, making it easy to take with you during vacations or trips to the park. At $699, this fuel-free cooker is comparable in price to other high-end gas grills. It will pay for itself over the years of use through minimizing utility bills or the expense of purchasing charcoal every time you want to grill out.

Wilson Solar Grill
Wilson Solar Grill

Wilson Solar Grill

MIT Professor David Wilson came up with a prototype solar grill back in 2011 that uses the sun's energy to grill even during the nighttime. The main drawback of most other solar barbecue grills and cookers is that you can only cook during the daylight hours when the sun is present. 

On the other hand, Professor Wilson's grill idea captures solar energy and converts it into thermal energy via a lithium nitrate substrate. It then stores that energy in a well-insulated container that will allow you to cook for up to six hours after charging the cooker. We haven't seen this available for sale yet, but we hope Professor Wilson or another innovative product maker brings it to market!

The idea of using latent heat storage for grilling and cooking has enormous potential for developing countries where firewood is the most common form of cooking meals. However, it also has tremendous potential for the American backyard barbecuing market. While the Wilson Solar Grill is still a prototype, it could be available for sale in the coming years. This would allow homeowners to add a uniquely sustainable addition to their outdoor living areas.

Bottom Line

Using solar cookers and grills will require learning some new grilling techniques and skills. This is a unique opportunity to further reduce your home's carbon footprint without sacrificing those summer evening barbecues. And with no gas line to be tied to, nor any charcoal to purchase, solar grills offer the added convenience of mobility (you can take it car camping!), as well as lower operating costs—making it a winning outdoor appliance.

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: 2021-10-25T23:46:08+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.

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