My barbecue is called Lil Smokey. In case you hadn’t grasped it instinctively, that name should be said in a US accent. It would usually be mentioned in the context of “let’s fire up Lil Smokey and geet some ribs cookin’.”
Rocking chairs, moonshine, bluegrass and some old-time dancing would all be part of the picture. But I live in Scotland rather than the mountains of Kentucky, so Lil Smokey has been used precisely twice since his purchase three years ago. Both occasions have been the quintessential British barbecue experience – whereby you can see the rainclouds looming yet still you persevere, shivering and reassuring each other that the chargrilled taste of whatever item you’ve stuck in a bread roll makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Regardless, I maintain a romantic attachment to the idea of barbecues. This despite being a vegetarian and existing in a state of terror in case my halloumi kebab gets splashed by a rogue spurt of juice from Mr Green’s steak. Having just scoured the shed for my one emergency bag of charcoal, I’ve found it has no environmental credentials whatsoever and is impregnated with kerosene. This does not sound good. I know someone who barbecues professionally and she distinctly warned against accelerants, looking troubled and saying “not good for the lungs”.
In environmental terms, a gas barbecue has far less impact than a charcoal one. But what’s the point of barbecuing without the charcoal taste? You might as well cook with a lot less hassle indoors, but let’s explore the discrepancy anyway. There are issues with the origins of charcoal – over 90 per cent of the charcoal used in the UK is produced elsewhere, often in forests where there’s no replanting or sustainability plan. Then there’s the charcoal-making process – it’s rather inefficient to turn wood into charcoal in a kiln, as most of the wood is converted to gas, giving a yield of just 20-35 per cent. But before we get bogged down, let’s consider that charcoal-making can actually be a low-impact operation.
When woodlands are coppiced (rather than cut down) to produce charcoal, it gives long-terms gains in terms of generating income and aiding biodiversity. Charcoal produced through coppicing has a far lower carbon footprint – a University of California study found that coppicing rather than clearing the trees for agriculture led to a reduction of carbon emissions by 2.5 tonnes per tonne of charcoal. For greener charcoal, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label – you’ll can relax and visualise butterflies frolicking in a coppiced glade.
The charity BioRegional (www.bioregional homegrown.co.uk) sells charcoal made by UK producers using timber from FSC-certified woodlands. This is chemical-free, lights easily, burns well and has up to 85 per cent less transport CO2 than imported charcoals. I’ll be making a beeline for it in time for our Indian summer.
Serious barbecuers can even make their own charcoal – search ‘OCN coppice and charcoal making course’ on the internet. And when the last burger has been eaten, the ashes can go on the compost heap.
And now that I know how to have a greener barbecue, all I need is some good weather so that Lil Smokey can make his 2012 debut appearance.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west