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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... that American summertime tradition, the bar-be-que.


CURWOOD: Though many Americans use them year-round, summer is prime time for back yard grills. More than three quarters of American households now own a barbecue, and together will light up about 3 billion times this year, twice as much as a decade ago. In the US, barbecuing got a boost in 1920, when Henry Ford accidentally invented the charcoal briquet, using wood scraps and sawdust from his car factory. Now we buy more than $400 million worth of charcoal each year. But the increasingly popular way to barbecue these days is also the more environmentally friendly way, with a gas grill. Charcoal grilling causes a lot more air pollution, mainly because of the volatile organic compounds found in charcoal lighter. Manufacturers who sell these products in California have had to reformulate lighter fluid to meet the state's low VOC emission rules. The origin of the word barbecue is unknown. Some say it comes from barbacoa, the word Taino Indians use for their meat smoking apparatus. Others say it's French. Barbecue means "whiskers to tail," or the parts you're supposed to cook. Well, either way, the craze has spread quickly. Today barbecue contests are held not only in the United States but also in Ireland and even Estonia. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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