Of all cooking methods, grilling is the one we imbue with the most symbolic meaning. Cooking with fire, as one Slate writer put it, can represent “some cosmic connection to our Neanderthal ancestors, some flicker of rebellion against the technological world.” And yet, in spite of the significance we ascribe to it, most Americans grill infrequently. The 86 percent of Americans who own a grill use it about once a month, on average—not often enough to develop real expertise. And then there are the apartment-dwellers, the mosquito-averse, and the hot dog–apathetic who would just as soon heat up dinner on the stove. (I count myself a member of all these groups.)
But even for this cohort, sometimes the stars align: The weather’s nice, your friends are coming over, you’re craving a burger with grill marks on it. Under such circumstances, it’d be a shame to struggle clumsily with lighting your grill. To save you from that embarrassment, here are foolproof instructions for a painless charcoal grill ignition, courtesy of Slate designer Derreck Johnson.