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Alice Henly’s Blog

Green Grilling: A Tailgater's Contribution to the Sports Greening Movement

Alice Henly

Posted September 13, 2012

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grilling veggies.jpgDressed to match their team’s finest, grillers across the country sear and flip their way through millions of burgers, hotdogs, cuts of chicken, and fish fillets at sports tailgates every year.

While grilling will remain the heart of the best tailgates, as the sports greening movement grows greener practices is the next big innovation in tailgating. More and more professional sports leagues, teams and venues are making more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent choices and have begun to encourage their tailgating fans to do the same.

Some teams (like the Philadelphia Eagles) provide recycling bags to tailgaters, and some leagues (like the National Hockey League) collect recyclables from tailgating parties. Many teams and leagues are also educating their fans about the importance of making more sustainable food choices, composting leftover food and reducing waste, as well as leading by example.

If following the lead of sports icons isn’t motivation enough, worries about costs, cholesterol, contaminated meat, dwindling sea life and the future of America’s ecosystems also make a greener approach to tailgating worthwhile.

Here are some basic tactics of greener grilling:

  1. Add fruit and vegetables to the mix: what's not to love about having more reasons to grill more kinds of food? Grilling offers very tempting options for vegetables--whether it's searing thick-cut portobellos or skewering bite-sized chunks of onion and green pepper. Of course, there's also traditional grilled corn--add a dash of salt and lime juice or chili powder to balance the natural sweetness. Try these healthy fish tacos with grilled corn, cilantro and mago salsa.
  2. Choose sustainably-produced meat (including chicken and fish): Look for products marked with the USDA Organic seal. That label ensures the meat is held to a higher standard.  And by buying it you’ll be supporting farmers who raise healthier animals.  
  3. Use propane to avoid burning your food: Use propane instead of charcoal because it provides an unmatched level of control and evenness of heat over the grill's surface--and that means less burnt food and food waste, and more importantly for your health, less undercooked food.
  4. Know when you’re full enough and store leftovers for later to reduce food waste: The environmental cost of wasted food is staggering: 25 percent of all fresh water and 4 percent of all oil consumed in this country are used to produce food that is never eaten.
  5. Bring reusable serviceware and containers, and cloth napkins to cut waste: Pack reusable utensils to reduce waste (and cost). Don’t forget to collect recyclables and compost in separate bags.

For more green grilling tips and recipes read NRDC’s Green Grilling Guide. To learn more about the sports greening movement sweeping North America check out the NRDC Sports Greening Project and read our report “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving The World”, the most authoritative compilation of sports greening case studies from across North America.

Photo credit: David Reber's Hammer Photography/Flickr

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

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