Apartment Grilling Guide: Cook Delicious BBQ Even if You Don’t Have a Backyard

Apartment grilling

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Grilling at an apartment complex comes with its own unique rules and regulations.

We’ll explain what your options for apartment grilling are and help you stay out of trouble with any local laws and regulations.

If you don’t live in an apartment but are seriously limited in space, we’ll also explain all the best options.

What you need to consider when apartment grilling

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when grilling in an apartment. The types of regulations may differ from place to place, but there are a few ‘best practices you can adopt so that you don’t end up breaking any rules. 

1. Get to know your building rules and local laws

There are two main types of restrictions that you need to know when it comes to grilling at your apartment:

  • rules for your specific complex or building
  • local regulations

The rules for your specific complex or building should be spelled out in the lease agreement you signed when you got your apartment. You can also check with the office or management contact.

Then there are the local regulations. Different cities and towns will have different rules for what types of grills can be used and where. Electric grills are usually fine to use wherever you want, almost universally.

Propane and charcoal grills, on the other hand, are usually restricted if not outright banned.

Smoke from a barbeque wafts up from an apartment balcony

For instance, New York City doesn’t allow standard propane grills to be used in apartment buildings. There is a provision for using a one-pound propane bottle on a roof for a short time, and the city does allow you to use a natural gas grill, but it has to be installed by a licensed master plumber. 

As another example, Omaha, Nebraska restricts any open-flame devices, regardless of fuel source, from being used on apartment balconies made of flammable materials or within 10 feet of any flammable building.

Otherwise, the Omaha fire code allows you to use whatever grill you want. 

These two examples show how widely the rules vary from place to place. Therefore – it’s always important to check the rules for your particular location. 

2. What type of grill do you want?

Once you’ve figured out what you’re allowed to use per local regulations and your apartment lease, you can then decide what kind of grill you want to have.

  • Electric These grills don’t use a flame at all. They instead use an electric heating element, much like an electric oven, to heat up a grill plate to approximate grill marks. While they don’t impart as much flavor as other grills, they have got a lot better in recent years.
  • Propane – If you are fortunate to have relaxed rules you will be able to go for a propane grill and enjoy better flavor, and amazing sear marks.
  • Charcoal – Not recommended for most apartment situations. Even if you are some how allowed to grill with charcoal, it’s messy and getting rid of charcoal ash can be a real pain in the backside.

We have a more detailed breakdown of our favorite small grills for apartment users.

3. How much space do you have?

Apartments are notorious for putting a premium on space. The same goes for the outside grilling space. When figuring out the size of grill you can have, you need to remember the local regulations and rules from your apartment lease. How much space do you have to keep your grill the minimum distance from the building?

We believe that you should go for the biggest grill you can accommodate. When you’re figuring that out, make sure you account for side tables. Do the side tables fold down, or are they permanently affixed? 

4. Do you need something portable or fixed?

If you want to keep your outside space clear when you aren’t grilling, you might want to look into a portable grill. The Weber Traveller with a collapsible cart could be a perfect option as when you’re done grilling, you can fold it up and stow it in a cupboard or in the car for a day trip or a camping trip.

weber traveler portable gas grill
The collapsable cart of the Weber Traveller makes it convenient for storing.

If you’re less concerned about conserving space and can keep a grill outside (properly protected from the weather!), the Weber Spirit II E-210 is a great option.

It packs a large cooking space into a small footprint. You can cook a full meal for your family without taking up every square inch of your backyard.

5. How to be safe when grilling in an apartment?

When it comes to grilling when you live in an apartment, safety is paramount. There’s more to be aware of when living in a complex. You’ve got to be aware of any balconies overhead or people moving around in any shared outdoor spaces. 

So how do you focus on your own safety and those around you?

Safety begins with risk prevention. This means cleaning your grill regularly, as the last thing you want is a grease fire or flare-up. When there are extra flammable materials nearby, a grease fire can be devastating.

steaks grilling with fire flare-ups on a small charcoal grill
Cooking means grease, and grease means the possibility of flare-ups

Take the time to clean your grill. It’s less time-consuming than cleaning up from a fire.

Speaking of fire safety, keeping a fire extinguisher at arm’s reach whenever you’re grilling can help prevent a lot of heartbreak. Whether it’s required by law or not doesn’t matter. A quick reaction with a fire extinguisher can prevent many serious problems.

Also, when you fire up your grill, don’t leave it unattended. If you have to go inside to get supplies, make sure someone else is close at hand. A few moments of inattentiveness can lead to disaster. 

Part of being near the grill is to help keep others from accidentally running into it. So make sure that if your grill is lit, anyone in the area is aware so that they can give it a wide berth. This means keeping kids and pets away from it.

For your own safety, you should also make sure you’re using good-quality tools and gloves to prevent injuries to yourself. You also should start by reading over your grill’s manual and make sure you’re operating it properly.

Best alternatives if you can’t grill in an apartment

Unfortunately, you might find out after researching that you can’t have a charcoal or gas grill at your apartment.

However, that doesn’t mean the end of your pursuit of great-tasting food. Electric grills might not be the same as charcoal or gas grills, but they’re better than not grilling at all. 

If you want to go down that route, take a look at the Weber Q2400. It’s our pick for a small electric grill perfect for an apartment. You can also look at George Foreman grills for a basic option.

If you want to achieve a sear for your steaks or burgers, you should look into getting a cast iron pan or griddle.

uncooked rack of lamb on cast iron pan
A good cast iron grill can go a long way in recreating that grill flavor

They retain and distribute heat well, perfect for that seared crust. The best part is they can be used on your apartment stove, on a grill, or over an open fire. Everyone should have a good quality cast iron skillet.

If you want to experience cooking over charcoal or propane, you might have to take a trip. Some apartment complexes might have a dedicated grilling area, so check to see if that’s the case. If they do, this is a perfect way to grill without having to pack up and drive somewhere.

If that’s not the case, check your local parks. Some parks will have charcoal park grills that you can use; simply pick up a small bag of charcoal, and you’re good to go. Just make sure you bring good tools, especially a grill brush. You won’t know how long it’s been since those grills have been cleaned! 

If you have a vehicle, you can also opt for a portable grill like the Traveller we mentioned earlier. Then you can take it with you to a park or camping and get to experience grilling.

No space? No problem

If you live in an apartment, it can make grilling hard. There’s a lot of information to look into before you even start considering what grill you want to get.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. Take the time to research the rules you need to follow, then check out our list of the best small grills for apartments.

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