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China Barbecue Ban: Is Charcoal Barbecue Smoke Really That Harmful?

Today we put out a press release commenting on a story about China considering a measure to ban barbecues across China’s largest cities, including the capital Beijing, in an effort to curb the dangerous levels of smog that have been plaguing heavily populated and industrialised areas in China in recent times. It’s a move that has been heavily criticised by the Chinese people, and surprisingly the state run media too, as they’ve become great lovers of barbecued food. The Chinese government does agree that there is too much pollution, with the cabinet approving an energy consumption “control target” for energy use by 2015.

This announcement is also strange given the amount of pollution that’s pumped out by the myriad of factories across the speedy developing nation of China and the millions of vehicles that take to the roads each and every day. Of course, we’ve been here before in the UK during our countries development during the Industrial Age. In fact, my grandma once told me that they had a big problem with smog even when she was young as our home town used to be home to quite a lot of mills with large chimneys that would pump smoke out constantly. As a result we can’t really see how China banning barbecues will have much effect on cutting pollution, and even when the idea was suggested here in the UK a Councillor in Islington said it was “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard”.

Is smoke from barbecues even a massive environmental and health problem? Well, when you’re pumping any smoke into the air there is obviously going to be some downsides, but the minimal amount produced by your single barbecue once or twice a year is going to cause much damage when compared to the daily fumes put out by vehicles and factories. We don’t exactly have the constant good barbecue weather here in the UK, so curbing people’s use on the few opportunities that British people get to use a barbecue isn’t going to go down well. There are a few problems that are important to point out though, although as with anything moderation is key when eating barbecued food; especially on a charcoal barbecue.

Smoke from charcoal barbecues can aggravate lung problems and heart ailments, but as with any smoke you shouldn’t be near it if you have such a condition. We’re not saying you can’t enjoy a barbecue because of lung problems, but it’s best to take precautions and let someone else do the cooking. There is some evidence to show that fat that drips down on to charcoal can rise with the smoke and end up sticking to your food, forming PAHs and HCAs the longer you cook the meat. High intakes of such food can increase the risk of certain cancers, although it’s extremely important to note that small amounts a couple of times a year aren’t going to do any lasting damage.

Artificial charcoal can also contain potentially harmful additives, so if you want to use a charcoal barbecue stick to natural charcoal brands; which usually contain no coal, oil, limestone, starch, sawdust or petroleum. Also, lump charcoal is made from charred wood, and since it has to come from forests this can contribute towards deforestation (although many companies make an effort to make sure it comes from sustainable forests).

If in doubt use a gas grill, as these are far less polluting and unlikely to harm your health in any way. At the end of the day charcoal barbecues can still be enjoyed from time to time, it’s just a far better option to opt for natural charcoal brands when you’re using them, try not to stay in the smoke for too long and don’t overcook the meat.

China Smog