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Chef Patrick Connolly at the grill
Photo: Adrienne Grunwald

The big debate in backyards across this great land as grilling season starts is gas or charcoal. But for Chef Patrick Connolly of Bobo restaurant in NYC, the answer is simple: neither. It’s not that Connolly doesn’t love to cook outdoors, “I just don’t like the look of of a big grill in a beautiful outdoor setting.” So whenever possible he “MacGyvers” himself a cooking grill from found objects onsite.

For the second summer in a row, the people behind Bobo are hosting a series of Plate to Gate dinners where they bring the restaurant guests straight to the farms where they get their meat, seafood, and produce. Anywhere from 40 to over 100 people come to each event, depending on the size of the venue, and every time Connolly shows up sans the big old grill rig that most chefs or BBQ masters take pride in carting around with them for such events. Instead, Connolly uses found materials from each farm or site to create his grill on the spot. Terrifying? “Well there’s always wood” he explains, which he prefers to cook with instead of gas or charcoal for the nuanced taste it gives. He digs fire pits, makes grills from old watering troughs and cooks over good old campfires when necessary.

Tips for your own gonzo grilling efforts:

  • Make sure what you’re doing is legal. Many locations have restrictions on grilling on average, everyday grills, let alone you digging things up for your DIY clambake or pig roast. 
  • Do a little reconnaissance and figure out what will be possible. Connolly, MacGyver, and Boy Scouts everywhere can all credit their success to being prepared. If there is no available wood in your location, then you’ll have to bring your own. Or charcoal. There’s no shame in using charcoal if necessary. You can always use wood chips for added flavor.
  • Other things that Connolly likes to keep on hand: Shovels. Matches. You might also want to bring your own actual grate to set over the fire once you get it going. We would like to add that you should make sure that you have a bucket of water or a little fire extinguisher at hand. Just in case. 
  • Look at your location: For a seafood dinner at Widow’s Hole Oyster Farm in Long Island, Connolly set up his fire pit on a peninsula where the sea breezes were able to keep the fire stoked. Work with nature and not against it, and it will be a more successful jerry-rigged grilling experience for all.
  • Think outside the box. Or the grill, as it were. Sure you need a container for your wood or charcoal, but why can’t that be anything fireproof? Can you fit a rack of ribs in that old metal wheelbarrow? Then that’s your grill. For a dinner at Neversink Farm, Connolly found an old watering trough the animals were no longer using and transformed that into his cooking vessel for the night. Just make sure what you are using is clean and fireproof.

Got your own DIY grilling tips? Let us know in the comments.