• Jim Pfiffer

My 3 steps to charcoal grilling: stop, drop & roll!

Weekly humor column by Jim Pfiffer, Elmira NY


Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer grilling season, so I decided to grill the old-fashioned way – with charcoal briquettes. It’s one of the few times that I can play with fire and accelerants and not get yelled at.


I normally use my cheap Wal-Mart gas grill. It’s fast, convenient and relatively easy to use. But it doesn’t give my steaks that tasty, smoky flavor that comes from cooking over charcoal. The gas grill makes my strip steaks taste like, well, Wal-Mart. Ick.


That’s why I used my old Weber kettle-style grill with the rounded top and a half-bag of Kingsford Briquettes that I found in the garage. I followed the standard backyard three-phase/four-step-phase process for trying to light.

Phase I:

  1. Shake my head and say some bad words at the billowing cloud of charcoal dust that enveloped me, blackened my face, hands and clothes, and incited a coughing and choking fit.

  2. Pile the briquettes into a pyramid shape that kept collapsing and falling apart until the third try.

  3. Douse the pile with lighter fluid.

  4. Hold a lighter flame to the briquettes going from one to another trying to get one to ignite, for Christ’s sake!

After several tries, a corner of one of the briquettes took a flame and began to burn, making me smile and giving me hope. After a few seconds, it fizzled out in a mocking wisp of smoke, making me swear and giving me grief.

Phase II:

  1. Angrily squeeze the lighter fluid bottle emptying it all on the pile. The pile is now primed with accelerants and ready to explode when lit.

  2. I stand back several feet, as the strong smell of petrol permeates the air. I use wooden kitchen matches to light the fire. The first few matches don’t light or snap in two. When one finally flames to life, I use the recommended “light it and throw it” by tossing the lit match into the pile, but the match goes out as it arcs toward the petrol pyre. After several tries, a match stays intact and stays lit as it lands on the pile. The backyard explodes in a mushroom cloud of blinding yellow and orange light, and intense heat that fries a nearby plate of hot dogs waiting to go on the grill.

  3. I go in the house and have a beer while waiting 10-15 minutes for the briquettes to turn into that perfect cooking heat of glowing orange-red embers with white and gray ash trim.

  4. Return to the grill to discover that the briquettes are still black and as cold as the beer I go get while telling myself to “stay calm” and “be an adult.”

Phase III:

  1. Pour copious amounts of lawnmower gasoline, paint thinner and tiki torch fluid on the smoldering pile. It sends a thick column of white chemical-laced smoke into the air that causes passing birds to fall from the sky.

  2. Do the "light it and toss" kitchen match routine until I get so frustrated, that I throw the whole damn box into the grill. Still no flames. I crouch down to blow on the smoking briquettes hoping to raise a flame. My wife shouts from inside the house “When are you going to learn? I’m calling the fire department!”

  3. The pile explodes into a conflagration that burns my face, singes my eyebrows, and sends me falling backward on my butt.

  4. I hold the top half of the grill by the handle and use it as a heat shield while I use the extra-long-handle spatula, in my other hand, to push around the flaming briquettes to reduce the flames to a forest fire, and show the now-arriving firefighters that I have everything under control and they can return to the station.

I stay by the grill tending to the steaks until they have a nice charred crust and are a pink medium-rare inside. I remove the steaks and let them rest for several minutes to trap the tasty juices and maximize their full flavor potential.


I plate the steaks cut off a tender piece and place it in my mouth-watering maw in anticipation of the first taste of summer.


“Damn it! Tastes like a can of gasoline!” I shout.


From inside the house, my wife shouts “When are you going to learn. I’m calling for a pizza.”


About the Author

Jim Pfiffer’s humor column posts every Sunday on the Jim Pfiffer Facebook page, Hidden Landmarks TV Facebook page West Elmira Neighborhood and ElmiraTelegram.com. Jim lives in Elmira with his wife, Shelley, and many pets. He is a retired humor columnist with the Elmira Star-Gazette newspaper and a regular swell guy. Contact him at pfifman@gmail.com.

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