The 235th anniversary of our nation’s founding calls for deep thoughts, profound insights and soaring rhetoric to stir every patriotic heart.
But not here.
With the stalled budget talks in Washington, the protracted war in Afghanistan and the gimpy economy weighing on the country’s mood, this seems like a good year to skip the chest-thumping speeches and focus instead on the power of individuals to make a difference in the state of the country.
And on the Fourth of July, there’s no better place to start than with that faithful Independence Day workhorse, the backyard grill.
The other day, I happened upon a remarkable statistic. Every July Fourth, Americans fire up some 60 million barbecues, which use roughly as much energy in one day as 20,000 households consume in a year.
And they send about 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide wafting into the atmosphere to join the other greenhouse gases that are accumulating there and changing our climate.
I’m no saint in this regard, in case you were thinking this was going to turn into an exercise in making you feel guilty about enjoying the charred meat of your choice. In the warm-weather months, we grill more nights than not.
But at a time when so many of our nation's problems are far too big for individuals to do much about, the choices we make in our daily lives can add up. There are, after all, more than 300 million of us celebrating Independence Day.
So here’s a summary of what I’ve gleaned from my research into green—or greener—grilling.
Natural gas and propane are generally preferable to charcoal. Yes, they’re nonrenewable fossil fuels, but they’re cleaner-burning than charcoal and, according to a 2009 study, nearly three times as efficient as lump charcoal.
If you do use charcoal, however, briquettes made from scrap wood can be a good alternative because you’re using wood that would otherwise go to waste. There are also some “green” charcoal brands on the market that say they use less toxic binders in their manufacturing process or are made from recycled wood.
Another consideration in reducing the carbon footprint of our summertime grilling is to use our barbecues more efficiently.
Don’t just grill a steak while your bake your potatoes in the oven and boil the corn on the stove. Do it all on the grill.
One of the main reasons we’re almost daily summertime grillers is because we want to avoid heating up the kitchen. That way, we don’t have to crank up the AC to compensate for the heat thrown off by the oven and the stove. Whenever possible, we cook our whole meal on the grill.
And if you have a charcoal grill, consider using the heat of the dying coals to warm up something for dessert while you have dinner—a fruit cobbler, for instance. Or make that gooey favorite of camp, s’mores.
As a way to start making better, more environmentally efficient use of your grill, Independence Day is a great time to prepare that most American of vegetables, corn on the cob, on the grill along with your burgers or other main courses.
Because this is America, the land of choice, there are dozens of approaches to grilling corn on the cob, starting with the existential decision of whether to remove the husk or leave it on. But here’s the simplest method:
Peel the husk off the corn and remove the silk. Rinse in cold water. Slather with butter or brush with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with a favorite herb, if you like.
Wrap in aluminum foil. Grill for 15-20 minutes, turning a few times to make sure it cooks evenly.
As the corn grills, think deep thoughts. Have profound insights. Then sit down and enjoy.