While grilling outdoors with natural gas during the summertime is considered environmentally cleaner than burning with charcoal, Tris West, a researcher with the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, says using charcoal does have a long-range advantage.
"Charcoal is made from wood," West says. "It is a renewable energy source, which means once that CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere, forests are then regrown wherever they were cut down and they take up CO2 from the atmosphere. There's a carbon cycle. We release it and then it's taken back up by the trees."
West says deciding between grilling with gas or charcoal can pose a dilemma.
"There is going to be twice as much carbon released from your charcoal grill as there is from your propane grill," West says. "When we consider the total carbon cycle and the charcoal as a renewable energy source because it's from wood, the story is completely flipped and you have more emissions from natural gas because emissions from charcoal are net zero."
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.