Frank Gaertner / Shutterstock.com

Flame cooking in the open air should be so simple. And yet.

Dear CityLab: I don't have a backyard, but I want to grill. Can I cook up some burgers on my balcony?

Maybe. It depends on where you live and what type of grill you have.

The International Fire Code stipulates that "open-flame cooking devices shall not be operated on combustible balconies or within 10 feet of combustible construction." That's a good place to start: Definitely don't try to cook kebabs next to a building with, say, wood siding. But beyond that, there's no hard-and-fast decree. In practice, grilling regulations are specific and highly varied.

Take, for example, New York. The Department of Buildings says no to fire escape grilling under any circumstances (after all, those rickety structures have to be empty in case of an emergency evacuation). But the DOB gives the green light to grilling on balconies, rooftops, and terraces—depending on the type of grill you use. Charcoal grills are relegated to a terrace or backyard, while electric grills are permitted on balconies and roofs. Propane grills are prohibited except in cases where they're in the backyard of a single- or two-family dwelling, such as a brownstone.

The Fire Department of the City of New York adds that all propane grills must be at least 10 feet away from buildings and deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.

Meanwhile, Chicago doesn't have any regulations about outdoor grilling, except a similar policy banning propane grills around multi-unit buildings. Unlike NYC, Philadelphia does permit charcoal grills on the roof, as long the building is only a one- or two-family home.

So how do you sort it out? Where you can grill is ultimately up to your local fire department, says Owen Davis of the National Fire Protection Association. Fire departments have the jurisdiction to regulate on a city-by-city level. Your best bet is to check with yours.

Another option is to forgo at-home grilling and use one of the stations at a public park. Consult your local parks department to find out which ones have barbecues and whether a permit is required. The heat is likely to burn off most of the truly grimy germs, but if you're still grossed out, try cooking wrapped foods, such as corn-on-the-cob with the husks still attached or shrimp folded in foil.

Top image: Frank Gaertner / Shutterstock.com

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A woman stares out at crowds from behind a screen, reflecting on a post-pandemic world where exposure with others feels scary.
    Life

    What Our Post-Pandemic Behavior Might Look Like

    After each epidemic and disaster, our social norms and behaviors change. As researchers begin to study coronavirus’s impacts, history offers clues.

  2. Maps

    The Three Personalities of America, Mapped

    People in different regions of the U.S. have measurably different psychological profiles.

  3. illustration of a late-1800s bathroom
    Coronavirus

    How Infectious Disease Defined the American Bathroom

    Cholera and tuberculosis outbreaks transformed the design and technology of the home bathroom. Will Covid-19 inspire a new wave of hygiene innovation?

  4. Maps

    Your Maps of Life Under Lockdown

    Stressful commutes, unexpected routines, and emergent wildlife appear in your homemade maps of life during the coronavirus pandemic.

  5. photo: an open-plan office
    Life

    Even the Pandemic Can’t Kill the Open-Plan Office

    Even before coronavirus, many workers hated the open-plan office. Now that shared work spaces are a public health risk, employers are rethinking office design.

×