Charcoal is often the first choice for enthusiastic home cooks. Grilling over charcoal offers precision temperature control from low-and-slow up to a high sear. The fuel is affordable, portable, and easy to store.
Charcoal grills are often less expensive than their gas counterparts, and they’re simpler and less likely to fail.
With all of these benefits, it’s not hard to see why charcoal remains popular in the 21st century. However, you may have heard that charcoal is unsafe for grilling, and maybe even that it can be bad for your health.
Make the right decision for your next grill with these facts about charcoal.
How Harmful are Charcoal Byproducts?
Let’s first address the health risks of cooking with charcoal. This is an important topic because charcoal sometimes gets unfair attention due to some misleading facts.
Charcoal is a carbon residue made from heating wood and other organic materials to remove air and moisture. It is a high-efficiency fuel that can produce intense heat. It’s the perfect type of fuel for cooking.
When charcoal ignites, it produces hundreds of chemicals that are exerted as gas. Some of these chemicals are carcinogenic, meaning that they can cause cancer. In laboratory conditions, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons released from charcoal have promoted tumor growth.
This information on its own might lead you to think that charcoal is bad for your health. However, it’s critical to note that these chemicals are most abundant in charcoal smoke. Most of the smoke is produced when the charcoal first ignites.
After that, the smoke produced is negligible. The health concerns are overblown. In fact, the compounds that develop on charred meat (using any fuel source) are more dangerous than charcoal smoke alone.
While there’s no disputing the fact that charcoal can produce harmful compounds, there’s no real evidence to suggest that cooking with charcoal is dangerous to human health.
If you want the convenience and affordability of a versatile cooking fuel, charcoal should be at the top of your list.
Safety Concerns When Using Charcoal
We’ve established that grilling using charcoal isn’t a health risk, but there are other things to consider before you buy your next grill.
- Charcoal produces carbon monoxide when burning. You should never use a charcoal grill in an enclosed or unventilated space.
- Your coals will still be hot when you finish grilling, so you need to be careful when disposing of them. Close the vents on your grill and place the lid on to starve the charcoal of oxygen. This will eventually stop combustion. After this, lightly spray water on the coals until they are cool. Don’t douse the coals, as this can produce dangerous steam vapor.
- Don’t dispose of your charcoal until it has rested or 48 hours. It can be wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in a trash bin. Alternatively, additive-free cooking charcoal can be used to fertilize plants or to increase the carbon content in a compost bin.
- Charcoal can get extremely hot, extremely quickly. Take the time to understand your charcoal grill and how it works. Most grilling accidents are caused by improper operating procedures. Read the user manual completely before using a grill for the first time. Charcoal grills use vents to control heat. The more the vents are open, the higher the heat will be.
- Keep children and pets away from charcoal grills. Tipping a grill could send dangerous coals across a deck or patio, leading to injury or fire.
Charcoal is a Safe Cooking Fuel That You’ll Love to Use
Like all forms of cooking, there are some risks to using charcoal. These can be mitigated by staying alert and following manufacturer-recommended safety procedures.
Charcoal is a healthy fuel for cooking, despite producing small quantities of harmful compounds. Aside from electricity, no fuel source is completely ‘clean’ for the end-user.
For a rich and smoky flavor, nothing beats charcoal. Now you have the peace of mind to invest in a new grill this year.