Greening your barbecue – natural ingredient firelighters

“Fwump!” – the memories of the sound generated (as best as I can translate – may have been more of a whoomp!) after Dad threw a match into the barbecue with just a bit of petrol (gasoline) to help things along. There were quite a few “fwumps/whoomps” during my childhood; with barbecuing being just as popular in Australia as it is in the USA.

Petrol/gas isn’t the safest thing to light fires with – or very environmentally friendly. These days people tend to use specific firelighter products to kick start their barbecues and wood heaters, which are certainly safer from the singed-eyebrows perspective – but how environmentally friendly are they?

I went over the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) of a few popular brands of solid firelighters and found the following common components:

Kerosene – is made from crude oil and was the first petroleum product ever to be refined. Along with the issue of emissions of anything crude oil based, it’s a toxic substance.

Naphtha  – is a distillation product from petroleum or coal tar boiling. Incomplete combustion can produce potentially toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, various hydrocarbons, aldehydes and soot.

Urea Formaldehyde Resin – this one surprised me. It’s probably used to slow down the burning of the firelighter as it’s a flame retardant. Formaldehyde is pretty toxic stuff and a known carcinogen.

The topic of firelighters came to mind the other day when I was in the supermarket. A brown packet in among all the brightly colored firelighter products caught my eye. Its understated packaging actually helped it to stand out among the other boxes featuring flames, devils and all manner of BBQ related themes. The ingredients were quite simple – vegetable oil and wood fibre compressed into cubes. You could eat the stuff; not that I’m recommending it.

A search around the web revealed quite a few natural ingredient based firelighter products now available. You can find them in your country by going to Google and using the following search criteria:

natural firelighter

Sure; We’re not going to save the world by using more environmentally friendly firelighters, but it’s another simple green action that when multiplied by millions doing the same, all these minor efforts do add up. 

An even greener way to fire up your wood or charcoal BBQ, or wood heater, is just to use old newspaper, tinder, kindling, a bit of puffing and patience; just as our ancestors did :).  

Dried orange peel makes for a good natural firelighter too. You can also save up your toilet roll spindles and cram them with newspaper; leaving a bit out the end as a wick.

Given the emissions involved with barbecuing generally, some would say the greenest barbecue is the one you don’t have – and while that’s technically correct, I think the occasional BBQ is one of those simple pleasures we shouldn’t need to forego or feel guilty about having. 

Switching to propane or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) barbecue is another option if you’re particularly concerned about emissions. While LPG is a fossil fuel, it’s clean burning – but I’d be the first to admit it’s just not the same as a good ol’ fashioned wood fired barbecue when it comes to the taste of the food prepared.

While on the topic of a more environmentally friendly barbecue, check out my article on greener charcoal.