The Climate Hero’s Summer BBQ
We’ve seen the documentaries. We’ve read the articles. We’ve talked to that one vegan friend who doesn’t talk about anything else. The key to a low carbon footprint diet is minimizing the meat. Look, I’m not here to mess with facts, but what I will do is offer some options that don’t require a full lifestyle overhaul. Here are some ways to subtly lower your impact without giving up your beloved boef and totally compromise your BBQ principles.
Let’s start with chicken, shall we? Of the “Big 3” (Beef, Pork and Chicken), our feathered friend produces by far the fewest carbon emissions. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t bore you with the details (chicken is estimated to produce 80% less carbon per pound than beef) because this is a cookbook after all (methane is 28 times more warming than CO2, and half of beef emissions are methane – compared with less than 5% for chicken) and I wouldn’t want to lose you before we even make it to the barbie (USDA estimates there are roughly 165,000 poultry producing farms in the U.S. giving local chicken options to nearly all metro areas in the country).
Here’s a little guideline when it comes to choosing your land meats: farms over factories, good feed good food, and keep it close to home.
Raising animals indoors requires all sorts of high impact gear in order to simulate a natural environment. That’s a whole lot of effort and emission for what you’d get by just sticking them outside.
Industrial farming uses a ton of carbon to produce animal feed (think petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides). Organic isn’t a perfect solution, but it generates a much lower footprint.
Why did the chicken cross the road? Ah, the age-old question. But what I’d really like to know is, did that chicken take a train? A truck? Was he on foot? Unicycle? And what was the distance of said road? The shipping details matter is what I’m saying. So hit a nearby farmer’s market or organic grocer and pick up a pasture raised bird that came from a local farm. And FYI, there’s no legal definition for ‘local.’ The USDA says 400 miles, but that could take you through 10 states. Not how I picture local… The Farm Institute says 250 miles – getting warmer I guess! The state of Vermont says local means from the state of Vermont, but that rule only works if you live in the state of Vermont. So there you don’t have it. I’m going to come up with a rule right now and say that local is 100 miles or less. I’m sure you’ll find something in my made-up range.
All that to say, chicken is your best farm raised meat choice for a low carbon barbie. When it comes to selecting your bird, pick organic, pasture raised, from a small local farm. Now let’s get to the juicy bits.
Reference Articles: https://ourworldindata.org/less-meat-or-sustainable-meat
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ceylon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 whole chickens
Step 1: Create your dry rub.
Take everything but the chicken, and mix together. There! Dry rub.
Step 2: Start Your Coals.
If you have a gas grill, you can wait until after the birds are prepped to turn it on.
If you are using coal, you want them to be evenly hot before you drop the birds in the grill, hence starting them now. GO NOW. And a quick climate impact note on cooking with charcoal vs. gas: charcoal is worse, much worse, no matter how you slice it. But, we understand that not everyone has a gas grill. Not everyone wants a gas grill. There’s something so smokey juicy delicious about the taste of a char-grilled meat. So, here are a couple of ways to lessen the impact: 1) Ditch the lighter fluid and make two olive oil “logs” instead. To make these “logs” just roll up 2-3 paper towels into a tight stick, pour some olive or vegetable oil on them so they’re nice and soaked, put the stick on the coals and light it up. It’s easy and it saves you from pouring kerosene where your food is going. 2) Swap out those conventional briquettes for organic lump bamboo charcoal or coconut shell charcoal…both available at an Amazon near you. Voila! (alternative) …both available on the internet near you. Voila!
Step 3: Prep Your Birds
Once you’ve combined your spices, set the mortar aside and start prepping the birds.
Rinse your two whole chickens and set them in a large baking dish for easy prep. You’ll want to quarter one red onion and one red apple and divide amongst the birds. Go ahead, stuff it in.
Place each chicken onto a large sheet of foil. Coat them with olive oil and then rub in the rub. Coat liberally with the jerk spices. Rub and jerk, rub and jerk, repeat.
Wrap them in two layers of foil. Poke a half dozen holes. They’re ready to party.
Step 4: Char
Before you throw them over the coals, place a smedium block of mesquite or hickory in the grill. Let it ignite. Now put the chickens in. The wood chunk flames will gently smoke – an exquisite compliment to the sweet and spice of the jerk.
You’ll be leaving them there for 75-90 minutes, depending on the size of your chickens. It’s important that you flip them a couple of times for even browning. Also, if you’re using coals, open up the grill and fan the coals to keep them hot.
With the chickens still on the grill, cut the foil open and peel it back, replace the lid, and give them 5 more minutes. This will give the skin a good final crisping.
The Old Man & the Seafood (Blackened Catfish Tacos)
I’m a coastal critter, which means I crave seafood. Hungry for fish. Fungry. What I mean is, no cookout is complete without blackened catfish. Here are the two rules of a low carbon fish fry: Go wild, and stay local. The chicken logic from earlier applies. Fish farming facilities gobble up a lot of energy to create an environment that mimics a natural fish-filled habitat. America is big, so I’m calling anything caught in U.S. waters “local.” And this is the part that makes me want to throw my hands up and scream I CAN’T DO ANYTHING RIGHT! Even the process of catching fishies in the wild poses a bunch of problems for our marine ecosystems. I’m not going to get into all of that because it’s frankly too depressing and I need to maintain my will to live, but I will offer this: wild caught catfish. It’s the least problematic – Whole Foods and the Blue Ocean Institute give it a “green” sustainability rating – and it’s also the most classic blackened fish you can have at a cook out. Done.
- 2 tablespoon smoked paprika (or use regular paprika)
- 1 tablespoon cayenne powder (use more for a spicier blend)
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 12 ounces of catfish, ideally in 2-3 ounce skinned filets
- ¾ cup of unsalted butter
Step 1: Prep ze Fish
Put your spice mix into a wide, shallow bowl. Press the catfish filets into the spice mixture to thoroughly coat.
Step 2: Prep Your Taco Stand
By all means, be your own person, but might I recommend:
A half cup of mayonnaise mixed with a lime’s worth of juice, salt, pepper, cumin, and hot sauce of your choosing. 3 fresh avocados scooped into a bowl, mashed a bit, spiked with a few spoons of salsa and some lime juice. A plate of tortillas, flour or corn…let the debate begin!
Step 3: Ready the Pan
We recommend cooking these outside because, well, it’s a BBQ, but mostly because blackening creates A LOT of smoke. And if it doesn’t, you’re not doing it right.
You’ll want a wide saute pan. If you have a cast iron pan, even better – with a good oven mit and a 50lb bicep curl up your sleeve, you can put it on any heat source. The key to blackening is high heat, so don’t be bashful. Throw about half of your butter into the heated pan to melt.
Step 4: Lay ‘em down
Once the butter is molten (frothy hot) it’s time to put on your safety goggles and your kevlar and layeth your catfish into the pan.
Give each side about 2-3 minutes on the hot af pan. You want the fish to be opaque and flaky, and the spices to be burnt.
Just before finishing the second side, throw the rest of the butter into the pan. It will melt quickly. Swirl it and spread it. Flip the fish one last time to the other side so both are coated in butter and your fry is complete.
Set the platter of fish on your taco stand, retreat with your taco and michelada to a safe distance and watch the frenzy begin.
Venison Chili, My Deer
I made a promise to you earlier. I told you that there’d be no drastic sacrifices made this BBQ season. I want to stick to that, but this is a dish you may have to work a little harder for. Little Miss Rulesy USDA requires the meat to be handled in a certain cost-prohibitive way after the animal’s killed, which means you can’t count on the grocery venison to be anything better than farmed, and by now you know how I feel about animal farming. This is the moment you prove your worth as a top-of-the-food-chain apex predator. That’s right. Gather your hounds. Grab your guns. We’re going hunting. Just kidding. Wild venison is never more than one or two cousins removed (unless you’re the cousin). And if you simply don’t come from a family of hunters, or don’t fraternize with the ones who hunt, my favorite option is Broken Arrow Ranch. They’ve developed an innovative way of processing wild game by hauling it behind an ATV on a USDA certified processing trailer. Snag some ground venison or venison chili meat. Both are fantastic. Who said there’s no substitution for family?
Reference article: https://brokenarrowranch.com/collections/wild-venison
This recipe makes 8 servings:
- 3 lbs ground venison
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 red onions
- 1 large sweet pepper
- 1 cup of sweet corn
- 1 or 2 large jalapeno, our choice
- 5 garlic cloves
- 6 tablespoons chili powder
- 3 tablespoons ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons herb mix (thyme, oregano, and rosemary)
- 2 teaspoons medium grind black pepper
- 2 teaspoons (or more) o finely ground sea salt
- 2, 15-ounce cans of beans (recommend 1 pinto and 1 kidney)
- One 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 3 or 4 cups of veggie broth (really depends how soupy you like your stew)
- 1 jar of tomato sauce
- ½ cup of dry red wine or a Coors Banquet
- ¼ cup of tomato paste
Step 1: Brown the meat
In your large chili pot, heat the olive oil and brown the meat (4-5 minutes). Your best bet for cooking the meat evenly is to do this in a couple of batches, transferring portions into a bowl. Once complete, put all of the meat back into the pot.
Step 2: Mire your poix
Add in the veggies (onion, pepper, corn, jalapeno) and cook until translucent. Then add in the garlic and spices.
Step 3: Melt your Pot
Add in the remainder of the ingredients (tomatoes, broth, beans). Let simmer, and stir periodically. Add salt and spice to taste. Get creative and throw some red wine or beer in, ya booze hound. The thing about chili is that you can’t eff it up too bad if you’re using fresh ingredients and the right blend of spices.
The Bugout Burger
It’s not what you think. Let’s not jump to conclusions here. I can explain.
Okay you’re right, it’s bugs. But hear me out! It’s bug meal. It’s also a bug meal! If you can stomach it, this recipe will at best save the planet, and at least put some of your BBQ guests on edge. And who doesn’t like to keep their guests on their toes? It’s not a social event if someone doesn’t flee your property screaming. Cricket Meal Burgers tackle so many environmental challenges that it deserves it own article dedicated entirely to its merits. Maybe I’ll write that one day, but in the meantime, here’s the recipe for the one burger that made the cookout list. Feed it to your kids before they’re old enough to think it’s crazy, yeah? We both know little Tommy is a freak, and this won’t even make the top ten list of the weird things he’s eaten today alone. Get the next gen hooked on the good stuff.
But first, why bugs? I’ll tell you. Insect farming basically has no carbon price tag. I’d be surprised if a single tree needed to be cut down for the mere square feet required for raising crickets. The average lifespan of a cricket is 90 days. A three-month-old calf can’t even wipe its own ass! And for the amount of protein they deliver, crickets don’t consume very much at all.
- 1 cup whole roasted crickets
- 1 cup sauteed mushrooms (your choice, but we suggest enoki because they’ll retain and then add moisture to the recipe)
- ¼ cup brown rice, boiled
- 1 shallot, peel and quarter
- 1 large beet, peel and quarter
- 1 egg
- ½ cup black beans, (ok to save yourself a day of prep and just rinse and drain a can, but soaked dried beans definitely have a lower footprint than the canned varietal)
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon chipotle powder
Step 1: Combine
You’re not gonna wanna mortar and pestle this one. You’ll need a proper food processor to pulverize those leggie bastards. Start by blitzing your crickets. Then add (order not important) the rest of your ingredients. Grind until well-mixed but not liquidy. Add a dash of water here and there as you go.
Step 2: Recombine
Dump your mixture into a bowl and start making your burger patties. This recipe should make 6-8 patties depending on how bug I mean big you like them.
Step 3: Cook the burgers
I’m sorry to say, but these burgers will never make it on the grill. I know, this compromises the integrity of the BBQ, and your reputation is on the line. But let’s be honest, people will be more preoccupied with the ingredients than the method of cooking. So let’s keep it simple. I recommend a baking sheet. But, if grill it must be, perhaps some foil, or just don’t press them and be gingerly about the flip.
Step 4: Welcome to the Future
Congratulations. You’ve just leveled up both socially and environmentally. You’ve got the whole neighborhood talking about your brazen bug burgers, and lady mother earth will be personally thanking you with every bite. Plus you’ve trained little Tommy to not develop an aversion to something that’s really quite normal in most cultures. You’re preparing him well for the post-graduate stint he’ll do in Thailand teaching English to the natives. Way to go, Tommy! And way to go, You.
There you have it. The meat-loving climate hero summer BBQ – creative climate conscious alternatives proving that you don’t have to become a monk in order to affect change. I mean you could… I think about it sometimes… up there in the hills… where my problems can’t find me…
But the point is, you don’t have to. You can move the dial without sacrificing your entire lifestyle. Bon appetite!