Men are natural food gatherers. We are experts in the fine art of foraging, gleaning, rummaging, scouring, pilfering, plundering, ransacking, scrounging and the dogged pursuit of the hidden last piece of the blueberry pie. That’s why, to most of us men, the kitchen is not a center of meticulous food preparation and refined cooking; it is simply a giant lunchbox to be raided and emptied.
That explains why you won’t catch too many of us near a stove, unless there are simmering snatchables within reach. And heaven forbid we engage in any culinary endeavor, save a cursory toastal mission or a microwavable popcorn project. Put a piece of meat on the stove and ask us to cook it and we look at you like you just asked us to give birth.
But somehow that all changes when you wives let us get an outdoor grill. Suddenly, the primeval food gatherers become culinary artists. Out of the blue, the desperate bottom-feeders become fastidious gastronome connoisseurs. And inexplicably, the “I don’t care just cook it” leftover-seekers turn into “I need to gently sear the hot dogs at 550 degrees for one minute on each quadrant and then reduce the temperature to 400 degrees and heat them moderately for five to eight minutes” gourmets.
Now that is not to say that grilling does not have its challenges. Simply buying the right grill can be a real trial. Do you want the ease of clean propane gas or the smoky flavor of charcoal? And if you pick charcoal, do you use briquettes or lump charcoal? And if you use lump charcoal, will you select El Gallito Mesquite or go with Cherokee Chief? Then again, the Kebroak Mayan Lump Charcoal sounds pretty good. After all, the Mayan staples were maize, beans and chili peppers. Was that cooking with gas, or what?
If you do decide to go with the lump charcoal courtesy of the Mayans, you’ve got to somehow get it started. Some genius thought that the best way to do this was to hand novice fire-starting husbands a bottle full of volatile, combustible, fatal-if-swallowed liquid and tell them to light it. Sure, we’re not supposed to squirt it like a flamethrower onto the blazing charcoal, but you also are talking about the gender of the species that will attach 45 weather balloons to a lawn chair and soar into the troposphere. And survive.
When discussing master grilling, one must mention one item of great significance: the apron. But not just any ordinary apron. You need an apron that makes a statement. To launch my new Mayan-powered flame-throwing barbecue grill, I decided to let my wife pick out an apron for me with a proper slogan printed on the front. I was hoping for something like, “Mr. Good Lookin’ is Cookin’” or “Dude With the Food” or even “Licensed to Grill.” I must admit I was a little disappointed when she bought me one that simply read, “Flame Retardant Material.” She told me she was just being practical. If I wanted practical, I would have gotten one that said, “Bacon is Meat Candy.” Geesh.
So, Grill Masters of the patio, may we boldly grill forth this summer with confidence and aplomb. No matter gas or charcoal, no matter lump or briquette, Mayan or mesquite, may the fork be with you. Even though we may be helpless in the kitchen, we are the Potentates of the Patio.
For we live by these immortal words: “Give a man a hamburger and he will eat for a day, but teach a man to grill, and he will eat for a summertime.”
Now could someone please toss me the water spray bottle?
• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He currently is looking for an apron that says, “This charcoal isn’t yours; it’s Mayan.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.