Outdoor grilling: A guide to make sure we all get along

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

Summertime is upon us, and with it comes one of the great pleasures of the long days and warm weather: outdoor grilling.

That scrumptious smell of steak, burgers, chicken or fish cooking on the grill. Rubbing them all with your favorite sauces, maybe some grilled veggies and, of course, the sound of one’s favorite beverage popping open.

It all sounds great, and it usually is.

But there are some challenges, especially for those living in the city with shared grilling areas and much closer quarters than suburban backyard. This requires a little common courtesy and understanding with the neighbors.

For instance, those living in condo buildings with designated areas often find themselves in situations where the number of grillers is greater than the number of grills.

I have seen instances where more than the grill gets overheated.

Occasionally, the group cooking experience looks more like a rugby scrum, complete with pushing shoving, and a few far less-than-polite verbal jabs. People get caught up in the conflict and, tragically, the meat on the grill gets neglected. Never let this happen!

Cooking on your own balcony comes with its own challenges. Respecting nearby neighbors, keeping the area clean as possible and bring sound down to a minimum. And don’t sweep any excess off the balcony onto floors below. That is a huge condo no-no.

When it comes to safety, Chicago Fire Department Chief Walter Schroeder said it’s best to grill in the shared grilling facilities, but if a balcony must be used then an electric grill is best.

“Obviously charcoal grills are very dangerous on a balcony,” he said. “That’s not something that should be utilized in that type of an environment.”

He added propane grills are both dangerous and illegal in most apartments and condos with more than occupants in the whole building.

“It acts like a bomb if it should have a leak,” he said of propane tanks.

And no matter what sort of grill is used, Chief Schroeder said cooks need to remember some basic safety tips.

“We want to make sure you’re practicing fire safety,” he said. “Don’t leave the grill unattended. Don’t leave it too close to the building. Don’t let children or pets around it. Sometime pets can knock it over. Really, those are all common sense practices, but sometimes we forget these things and get carried away.”

Beyond safety, downtown residents will want to remember courtesy, too—especially when using a shared space.

Some additional dos and don’ts to help prevent barbecuing courtyard anarchy:

Do come prepared, so when you get to the grill you are ready to go without delay.

Don’t hover over somebody who is doing their cooking while waiting for your turn.

Do offer to share your grill if there is room to spare.

Don’t forget to scrape and clean the grill when you are done. Ditto for the grilling utensils.

Do feel free to strike up conversation. Grilling can be a great way to make new friends.

Don’t talk so much you neglect the meat. Many wonderful cuts of beef have gone to over-charred heaven due to the griller flirting with a neighbor.

Do enjoy the experience and take in all the wonderful smells that bring joy to our olfactory senses.

With a dash of patience and a pinch of friendliness and common courtesy will make the outdoor grilling season more enjoyable for everyone.

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