Maybe you're fortunate enough to live in a swanky condo building with a sweet 36-square-foot patio, or better yet, have a backyard with a nice little kettle grill set up. Good for you.
But you don't actually need any of that fancy stuff to have a proper summer grilling banger. The truth is that if you want to cook with fire, you actually don't even need a grill; our Homo erectus ancestors somehow did just fine without Big Green Eggs. Spend your money on good food instead, and let us show you how to freestyle a fire pit in no time with our Guerrilla Grilling Guide.
OK; a grill is, obviously, ideal for this. But without a grill, all you actually need is a heatproof container set off from the ground, and the rest is up to you. A wheelbarrow might work; so might one of those busted-ass grills with no grates that you see in the park occasionally. We used a good ol' Radio Flyer wagon, just like the one you used to recklessly drag your baby brother around in during childhood, and lined the base with foil. As long as it's big, sturdy, and metal, one person's garbage is another's flaming hot coal vessel.
As long as it's big, sturdy, and metal, one person's garbage is another's flaming hot coal vessel.
There are two major kinds of charcoal: briquettes (evenly sized, processed-looking pellets) and hardwood (irregular chunks and lumps). For this, you're actually best off using hardwood. Briquettes are treated with chemicals that help them ignite easily and stick together, and since we're not going to be using a grill grate, you don't want that stuff subsequently stuck to your food.
Do you have a chimney starter? LOL, didn't think so. But you'll still need to light your coals somehow. Lighter fluid makes all your food taste like you cooked it in the parking lot of a gas station, so skip it. But all you'll need to get your fire blazing is a bodega-buyable bag full of oil-soaked kindling with built-in flame-stoking oxygen pockets, more commonly known as Doritos.
Lay a thick layer of Doritos in the base of your grill, then build a pyramid of coals on top (if the wind is strong, scatter a few Doritos throughout the stack for good measure). Light the Doritos with a long-handled match (or very carefully with a regular match or lighter—seriously, they're really, really flammable). Once they catch, you should be good to go. Wait until the coals are completely ashed-over (a.k.a. grey) before using tongs to spread them out into an even layer.
So here's the thing: You don't even need a grill grate. If you're using hardwood, you can tuck whatever you want to grill straight into the coals. Couple things about that: These coals are hot AF, so some foods withstand better than others. We recommend thick steaks, or anything with a shell (like oysters or clams) or protective outer coating (like lobster tails and ears of corn).
Steak got a dusting of salt and nothing else and was a perfect medium rare at six minutes per side. If your steak is thicker or thinner (ours was 1.5 inches), you might need to adjust. The underbelly of the lobster tail was brushed with butter and flipped once, and cooked for about four minutes per side. The corn was de-silked, then re-husked and done in four minutes total.
We hope that these guidelines are helpful, but ultimately, you're going to have to rely on your instincts on this one. But if you've already committed to starting a fire with a bag of Doritos, we suspect that you have very good instincts.
If you want to do something delicate, like fruit, that's what skillets are for. Slice and roast the flesh of a pineapple for a grilled piña colada (served in the fruit's skin!), or make a full-on berry crumble in the coals. And yes, we've got the recipes for those, for those of you who like following rules (or at least instructions).
Once you're done grilling, let the coals burn down till they're completely cold, then dispose of them as appropriate in your area: metal garbage cans; the pails they have kicking around parks specifically for that purpose; or even your compost (only if you've used hardwood lump charcoal). Don't pour water on them, lest you end up with a bunch of mud that you'll then also have to dispose of.
Let your friends with gas grills content themselves in their, like, fancy backyards or whatever. You'll be sitting pretty with your Dorito-fired wagon of chill.
Disclaimer: Be careful around fire and try to avoid grilling in a metal object that has a strong chance of being covered in carcinogenic coatings. But then again, coal is technically a carcinogen, so there you go.