Sunday, March 16, 2014

Apartment and Condo Grilling and other Open Flame Burn Bans

Earlier this week I grilled some bacon cheeseburgers on an electric grill.  Why is a guy with kamado grills, smokers, and gas grills using an electric grill?  

When I got my first apartment when I was 19, most apartments or condos didn't have a lot of rules about grills on the balcony or deck.   My roommate and I cooked out all of the time.  But these days, open flame grills are prohibited at most multi-family dwellings.  Heck, you'd probably get in more trouble for having a grill on your balcony than you would for clubbing a baby seal in the apartment's pool.  

This is because fire codes have tightened up over the years and states and counties usually set their fire codes by adopting these standards.  The International Fire Safety Code states
308.3.1 Open Flame Cooking Devices
Charcoal burners and open-flame cooking devices shall not be operated on combustible balconies or within 10 feet of combustible construction.  
  1. One- and two-family dwellings
  2. Where buildings, balconies, and decks are protected by an automatic sprinkler system
Even where one of those exceptions are made, propane gas tanks are still prohibited unless they are a 1 pound cylinder or smaller.   The NFPA code that some places use is even more restrictive. 

We found out about this apartment grill prohibition when we moved to Tennessee and got an apartment until we figured out where in town we wanted to live.  At the time those clam-shell style "grills" promoted by a certain former boxer were quite popular so I bought one of those.  I was sorely disappointed with the results and just quit grilling for 6 months until we bought our house.

Fast forward to 2014 when I joined the Char-Broil All-Star team and had my choice of two grills from their selection.  One of my choices was the Patio Bistro TRU-Infrared Electric Grill because I wanted to see if it was a viable solution for those folks persecuted by the man  affected by apartment or condo grill bans.

Brand:  Char-Broil
Model:  Patio Bistro TRU-Infrared Electric Grill
Price point:   $129 - 179 depending on model and retailer
Availability:  Online at Char-Broil and available at many big box retailers
240 sq inches grilling surface and 80 sq inches warming rack
120 volts, uses 1750 watts
Porcelain cooking grates, cool touch handle, easy to use control dial
Dome mounted thermometer
Can use standard grilling accessories.  Manufacturer also offers custom sized griddle, pizza stone, and side shelves. 
How it Cooks
It couldn't be any easier to use this grill.  The controls are intuitive.  Plug it in, turn the dial, and wait 15 minutes to preheat.  

The Patio Bistro uses an electric heating element positioned under a specially designed grill grate that ensures at least 65% of the cooking heat is from infrared energy.  That's close to a charcoal fire which cooks with about 70% radiant energy.  Infrared energy cooks the food without drying it as much as conductive and convective heat.   The clam-shell style "grills" that I mentioned use two metal plates pressed on the meat so those are using mostly conductive heat, more like pan searing than grilling.  

A quick check with a non-contact laser thermometer shows the heat at the grate level is 500-550°f, which is less than a charcoal or gas grill but still capable of grilling most foods.  I really pushed the limits and tested it by using it for "Take Your Grill To Work Day" on a day when it was windy, cold, and even had snow flurries.  
Set up by the front door of the office.  Like my fancy grill table? 
Every one was bringing stuff and I made our Smokey Pork Tenderloin Sliders.   I pretty much overloaded it and it still held it's own in the less than ideal conditions.

I've used it mostly to grill burgers and dogs for quick eats.  You get the sizzle and smoke of the grilling experience which is something I found lacking the last time I tried using electric grills.  

The smoke is coming from the meat drippings on the grill grate.  Anything that makes it through the grates without vaporizing ends up in an easy to remove collecting tray at the bottom. 

Here you can see a shot of how the grill gate is ridged.  The top of the ridges is solid and is what contacts the food.  In the valleys between the ridges there are narrow openings and these can be hard to clean out.  I found that taking the grate out when I'm done, flipping it over, and cooking on high for 15-20 minutes burns most of it off so all it needs is a brushing to clean it.  

It does have its limitations.  For example, it's not the best for indirect grilling because you only have one controller and one heating element.  It's also not ideal for heavy duty searing since the temperatures seem to top out at about 550°f.   But it can definitely handle steaks, chops, burgers, chicken, and hot dogs which is what most folks are going to cook on it anyway.

Double Bacon Cheese Burger

Alexis and I both wish that we had this grill back when we were in the apartment because this is as close to the real thing that you can get without having an open flame grill.  Does it get around your grilling ban?  Probably but you have to check on the actual codes that your State, county, and city use.  Same goes for states with a burn ban in place.  

A solid performer.  It's not going to replace your favorite charcoal or gas grill but it is a workable solution for people affected by open flame bans. 

[Standard Disclaimer]  
I received my Patio Bistro TRU-Infrared Electric Grill free from Char-Broil as part of my membership on their All-Star team; however, this is not a sponsored post.  In fact, all of my Char-Broil sponsored content only shows up at Char-Broil Live, not here.  Anything here is just my opinion and does not represent the views and opinions of Char-Broil.