How to Start a Grease Fire


illustration: tram nguyen


So you want to start a grease fire in your apartment?* Okay! It’s pretty easy, if you are committed to abiding by a certain set of rules.

First, be blithely overconfident in your intuitive abilities as a chef. You may go to the beach, for instance, and eat a delicious oyster po’boy, and then you may think, “Of course I can replicate this; I am quite handy in the kitchen.” Decide you will make some po’boys next weekend for lunch.

At your leisure, go to the grocery store and procure some oysters and other ingredients. Conduct a superficial Google search of how to fry oysters. In doing this, you will notice that multiple websites recommend using an oil thermometer while performing this activity. Shrug this off as a waste of money and decide that, what with your superior judgment and culinary prowess, you are perfectly capable of eyeballing it.

Do not bother with figuring out what kind of pot works best when deep-frying something. Use the Cuisinart pot you inadvertently stole from this girl who lived in your apartment for a minute in 2004, which you have since treasured for being multipurpose even though in reality it is pretty much a glorified saucepan.

Begin to batter your oysters. Invite a friend over. Remark to your friend how beautiful your oysters look, and how clever you are for figuring out the recipe. While you are battering your oysters, casually dump a big thing of vegetable oil in your pot and turn the heat to high.

Cover the pot. Yes, you heard me. You want a big fire, don’t you? Chat with your friend. Snack on some cookies. For good measure, turn on the oven and toast some rolls while you’re at it.

When your oysters are battered and you have discussed the full breadth of your current emotional issues with your friend, take the lid off your pot and happily expect the oil to be sizzling prettily. Remember, you will not have really researched this process, so you will not know you are absolutely not supposed to cover vegetable oil when heating. Isn’t it funny? There are so many things you don’t know!

Now, step back. In 1-2 seconds seconds, your favorite pot, the one you did not pay for and which has apparently been karmically haunting you for the last nine years, will explode in flames. Scream. Jump back. Scream again.

This is where your friend will enter the picture. Make sure the friend you have selected has a cool head in a crisis. She will find your fire extinguisher and figure out how to use it. She will spray its contents all over the flame. The flame will die down for a moment.

If you have followed the above directions precisely, however, your grease fire will be too powerful even for your cute little red fire extinguisher to manage; after being briefly subdued, the flames will leap even higher than before. At this point, your apartment will begin to fill with a thick black smoke. This is when you and your quick-thinking friend must call 911 and knock on your neighbors’ doors to tell them to get the hell out.

But wait! Perhaps you have a cat? Perhaps your cat is a wild little thing, a rescued Brooklyn street cat who has a mind of her own and claws like a wolverine? Chase her around the apartment for several minutes while everyone around you runs down the stairs and out to safety. Think for a moment about your looming death. Have a mini-panic attack. Consider curling up in a ball and letting the smoke fill your body. You have five seconds to get this destructive behavior out of your system before you must force yourself to remember the cat you must save. Find her, grip her firmly by the paw, and yank her to your chest as she sheds two sweaters’ worth of hair on your jeans, rips your t-shirt, and claws your stomach to shreds. Hold the cat close as you run down the stairs, coughing and triumphant, feeling like a good cat mom. Put the cat in the doorman’s bathroom and let her chillax for a bit.

Go outside. Here, you will laugh-cry when the firefighters, of whom there appear to be an endless supply, make fun of you for being a bad cook. Chuckle gamely when they suggest you “should have consulted Google.” Think to yourself that they are right.

Be sure to not realize that you have a gaping hole down the front of your shirt through which bloody cat gashes are visible, and introduce yourself to your neighbors for the first time. Cry a little with every interaction.

When the fire is safely out, consider how lucky it was that you were too out of your mind to think of doing some things that could have made your situation much, much worse: For instance, be grateful it didn’t occur to you to throw water on the oil, which would have probably led the fire to leave the pot and burn down your apartment. Be thankful that the fire extinguisher your friend picked up was the one filled with fire extinguisher stuff, not water, because for some reason you had one of each in your apartment. Forgive yourself for the fact that it did not occur to you (because you did not know, because of your lack of research) to put baking soda or salt on the fire, or to cover the pot with the lid, which according to your grandmother would have put out the flames. Feel worried about your survival skills, but confident in your maternal instincts.

Return to your apartment. Bring your terrified cat into your bedroom, which is only a little bit ashy. Give her a lavish portion of food, her litter box, and her favorite blanket. Snuggle with her for a minute. Then go to your friend’s birthday party and get very, very drunk.

Upon returning home, rinse the soot out of your every existing pore. Unless you are a masochist, do not repeat.

* Why???? Learn from our mistakes.

12 Comments Write a comment

  1. I think I would have done the exact same thing! Very educational and entertaining post :)
    Hope the next oyster frying attempt goes better!

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  3. Hilarious! The entries in your food journal are entertaining and beautiful. Well done!

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  5. Oh, dear. I, too, am guilty of trying to “eyeball” the temperature of vegetable oil. Ahem.

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  7. It’s almost 1 am here and this had me in stitches. I am hoping that my chortling with laughter did not wake anyone else up!
    Love the way you write and I shall be back. Congrats in Editors choice in the Saveur awards.

  8. Too funny. I always want to fry things at home (have never actually tried) and always wonder what would happen if I switched out the oils (e.g. what if I fried these donuts in coconut oil? Wouldn’t that be so tasty/healthy/superior in every way?). Well suffice to say, I will probably not do any of those things now…

    This post is also a really good ad for renter’s insurance.

  9. This was so hilarious that I almost forgot you would have been through hell during those frantic moments when dying seemed easier . But on the bright side, your tragic experience, and my search for new blogs to read and get inspired from, led me here, and I have today learnt that baking soda and salt can put off a grease fire!!! Don’t fret. Shit like this happens to me too. My roommate and I had just moved in to a new apartment and I wanted to bake something as a sort of ‘house-warming’ gesture. A careless, distracted turn of the oven temperature dial (courtesy of having re-created the same recipe several times in a *different oven*), set the broiler rolling, and I did not know my roommate had temporarily stashed a wooden chopping board in the broiler tray while unpacking. Throw in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, a dysfunctional fire alarm, and a sleeping roommate, and the tragedy writes itself.

  10. Was reading this in bed and tried to be quiet while my stifled laughter shook the bed. Finally couldn’t contain it, woke my husband, tried to explain what was so funny through the tears… But my half assed explanation is nothing compared to your story telling! Love it! Thanks for the laughs!

  11. Thanks, this helped a lot. Now I know how to start a grease fire and am well on my way to creating an unstoppable inferno. Thank you.

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