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The Apartment Dweller's Guide to Grilling

Depending on where you live, you may have seen city ordinances and/or threatening letters from the Fire Marshall proclaiming the operation of a grill on your apartment balcony or porch to be "against the law". You may be asking yourself, should I, or should I not, attempt cooking out on the balcony, in spite of the potential illegality of such an activity? The answer is by no means simple, and depends on a multitude of variables, such as the weather, and the particular cut of meat you have selected to cook. But I certainly wouldn't leave the decision entirely in the hands of the Fire Marshall. That is, unless he or she issued the ordinance against you personally, after tasting one of your burgers!

In my personal opinion, it doesn't seem fair that I should I be subject to these kind of punitive restrictions on outdoor grilling, just because two decades ago some careless idiot burned his apartment building down, and the local government felt a need to punish every other denizen of the city by banning ALL grilling on balconies. I hope that you will agree with me, and that the suggestions in this guide will have you grilling safely and confidently, in the convenience of your own balcony.

To begin with, we will discuss some important preparations.

Being prepared

One can head off many potential problems by taking a few preventative actions before the grilling takes place. First, and most importantly, keep a gallon jug of water close to the grill at all times. The water must be kept within easy reach in case an emergency situation arises, as we will discuss in a later section.

If your balcony is in such a location that a person wandering past might see you operating the grill, I would suggest posting a certified "grilling permit" on a nearby wall, preferably in a location that makes it inconspicuous but visible once it has been pointed out. Where, you may wonder, can you get such a permit? I would discourage trying to obtain one through legal channels, for several reasons: it would probably be a headache to begin with, and even if you succeed in getting one, you will likely have no control over the exact wording it contains. I sidestepped the whole fuss by typing and printing my own permit. I used the following text, which you may feel free to copy:

"Special dispensation is hereby granted to (name) by the (city) Department for the Prevention of Shaken Babies, for the operation of an outdoor cooking device on any balcony, porch, or patio, in the interests of preserving the ethnic culinary heritage and freedom of all people."

First of all, who can argue with the prevention of shaken babies? And the inclusion of the words "ethnic" and "heritage" are also important, since now you can accuse anyone who challenges your right to grill as being a "racist". However, the day may eventually come when your apartment management decides to take further threatening action, in which case you will need to be ready to fight back. The following section suggests one tactic you might try using.

Fight fire with fire

The management of your apartment complex may try to suggest that your use of the grill poses a "hazard" to you and other residents. Rather than trying to argue this point, consider countering with your own list of "hazards", and report them to the property management. Some examples might be:

"The water heater in my utility closet is situated too close to the walls and floor, thereby presenting a potential fire hazard," or

"There is a dangerously flammable cobweb above my furnace."

Suggest some solutions that would be far too expensive or impractical for the management to undertake, such as suspending the hot water heater from the ceiling with cables. That way, the proprietors will not take action in response to your complaints, just as you do not plan to change your behavior in response to theirs!

Unfortunately, accidents do inevitably happen. The day will come when your grill does in fact start a fire, and you will want to be ready to react quickly and appropriately at that time, as described in the following section.

How to react to an emergency

By staying close to the grill, maintaining a watchful eye, and having a preset plan of action, you will not need to panic in the event that fire starts spreading from your grill to the apartment structure. If you happen to see part of the building begin to smolder, grab the jug of water which you have set nearby. Immediately pour yourself a tall glass of the water and drink it, because your next actions will be critical and you do not want to be distracted by a nagging thirst. Discard the remainder of the water and run inside.

You are now going to need to light several fires inside your apartment, in the hopes that these will be discovered first, and identified as the "source" of the blaze, in the ensuing fire department investigation. Be sure to set fire to the walls and floor around the water heater, the cobweb above the furnace, and any other "hazards" you took care to point out to your apartment management. Starting more than one fire will improve your odds of confounding the investigation, but there is no need to "overdo" it, as two or three should be plenty. Once these fires are burning with adequate intensity, do not hesitate further to gather yourself, your most valued possessions, and any salvageable food from the grill, and run for safety.

Final thoughts

Grilling is a great way to enjoy a beautiful day outdoors, the company of family and friends, and a splendid meal all at once. I hope the suggestions in this guide will help you to reap the pleasures of grilling on your apartment balcony without suffering any undue stress from the senseless regulations your municipality may impose. Not that I don't feel some regret for causing that incident 20 years ago; but I, like any grill enthusiast, feel such a satisfaction and appreciation for a meal cooked on an open flame, that I simply wouldn't have it any other way!

by Ky MacPherson
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