(LifeWire) -- Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are the most popular days to cook outside on the grill says the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Asssociation. Americans grill with a passion, the group notes, with eight out of 10 U.S. households owning a grill or smoker and half use it more than four times a month.
Shop for meat and poultry at your local farmer's market or look for meat that is USDA certified organic.
On the July 4 alone, at least 60 million people grill up a holiday meal, according to a 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which monitors climate change.
But if you're one of the growing number of Americans who are also becoming passionate about the environment, you may be concerned that your backyard barbecue is adding to global warming and wondering what you can do to make burger flipping a bit more environmentally sound.
Before you get too worried, Jay Gulledge, senior research fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, counsels that "the carbon footprint of backyard grilling is not that significant compared to what people do in their everyday lives. Lights, TVs, cars, these are much more significant than grilling."
He also notes that backyard grilling with either gas or charcoal is likely to be a better environmental option than "using an electric stove in your house" that is powered by a coal-burning power plant.
Maybe the best way to reduce your carbon footprint when you grill might just be to turn off all the unnecessary electric lights in your home while everyone is outside around the barbecue.
While you don't need to run out and buy a new grill to be green, there are some easy ways to be environmentally responsible without making yourself crazy.
Your environmental table
You can help make a difference by serving meals on reusable plates and using real utensils and washable linens and napkins rather than plastic or paper products.
If you're hosting a large gathering and don't have enough plates and cups, opt for compostable dishes and utensils made from renewable resources such as corn and potato starch and some recycled materials. These items are sold in stores including Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Target.
Plan a menu based on sustainable food choices. That means buying local or organic foods where possible, everything from produce to meats, fish and desserts. Buying local minimizes the use of fossil fuels (because it's transported over shorter distances) and supports the regional economy.
Here are some more hints for making sustainable food choices:
• Organic or local grass-fed meats are the best environmental options and often are considered the best nutritionally and in terms of taste. Shop for meat and poultry at your local farmer's market or look for meat that is USDA certified organic or certified by Humane Farm Animal Care.
• For fish, wild-caught Alaskan or Canadian salmon and farmed U.S. catfish work well on the grill and are a sound choice.
• Soy dogs and burgers might seem like the ultimate green meal but only if they are certified organic and made of soy that does not contain genetically modified organisms.
• For dessert, go irresistibly green with locally made ice cream and grilled fruit or s'mores made with Fair Trade chocolate and organic graham crackers and marshmallows.
Use DEET-free repellents to avoid mosquitoes, black flies and other bugs that make your time around the grill unpleasant.
DEET, a common pesticide, has been linked to neurological problems in children. Studies by Mohamed Abou-Donia, who holds the dual titles of professor of pharmacology and cancer biology and professor of neurobiology at Duke University, show that prolonged exposure to DEET can impair brain function in adults.
There are numerous natural repellents available, many made with strong-smelling natural oils such as citronella or geranium. Natural repellent creams and sprays usually require more frequent application than chemical repellents. E-mail to a friend
LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Victoria Spencer writes about food and entertaining and is based in New York City
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