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Last update 12/09/2010

Neon John's Compact Grill

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grills compacted since 05/27/07
My rig is fairly small and has little storage space.  Therefore I need a grill that can be stored in the absolute smallest space. I'm a purist when it comes to steaks.  Charcoal, only charcoal and nothing but charcoal.  I could not find a commercial grill that met these requirements so I decided to come up with my own.

In the restaurant biz we use disposable pans called "steam table pans".  They come in various sizes, specified by the fraction of a full size pan and by the depth.  A common size for catering and the like is the "half size, 4" deep pan.  It dawned on me that a couple of these pans would make a nice base for a charcoal grill


Materials needed:
  • Two steam table pans
  • 1 general purpose replacement grate for a gas grill
  • Sand, gravel, dirt, etc.  Pick up at camp site.
  • Fire starter
  • Charcoal chimney
Here we see the basic arrangement.  One pan turned upside down makes up the base.  This is to keep heat off the table.  If you're using a concrete picnic table then the bottom pan isn't necessary.

A thin layer of sand, dirt, gravel or whatever you can scoop up makes a base for the charcoal and keeps the heat away from the aluminum bottom.

On the gravel we place a small square of fire starter.  This is a mix of wax and sawdust.  It starts the charcoal without leaving any taste like starter fluid does.  
Next goes the charcoal starter chimney and the charcoal.  The chimney instructions say to use wadded up newspapers.  That works but the fire starter chunk is easier to store and starts the fire much more reliably.  
Light the fire and we're off!  
  When the charcoal is burning nicely in the chimney, dump it out on the dirt and place the grill directly over the fire.  The briquettes will probably touch the grill.  This is fine.  
  Apply a suitable USDA Prime aged Ribeye and enjoy.

 Even though the meat is right there on the fire, flames are not a problem.  The air flow to the underside is quite restricted.  There will be lots of smoke but little flame.

When the cooking is done, allow the fire to burn out and then dump the whole mess into the fire ring.  Or wet it down nicely and dump it into a garbage bag.


  After dumping the ashes, the two pans nest nicely inside each other, greatly minimizing the storage space required.

I keep the grate in a plastic garbage bag to contain the grease.  I can wedge it in the side of a cabinet so that it takes no space.

The chimney is the hardest part to store.  I keep it under a couch cushion and fill it with other small items, minimizing the impact on storage space.