My brother and his family live in an old three-story New England house in my home town. A few years back, while their three children were still at home, they converted the third floor attic…an old, unfinished spooky kind of place…into a TV room complete with 52” flat screen TV, couches, chairs and a view out the window of the saltwater marsh beyond. While the family room sits off the kitchen complete with bookcases, TV and enough room for all, the younger members of the family…along with friends….would climb to the third floor haven. My youngest nephew, now turned twenty-one, regularly hangs out there with his buddies to catch the ball games, talk of girls, sports, their manly heroics and whatnot. He refers to it as his “man-cave.” It’s a guy-thing, one of many.
The barbecue is a guy-thing too. When standing next to the barbecue grill in the back yard, out in the fresh air, smoke coiling from the grill and cocktail in hand, men are all-powerful and important, the fate of the meal in our hands as friends and family wait in anticipation. We have special cooking tools just for the barbecue never used in the kitchen, designed to handle the intense heat and flames…..guy stuff. We are in our element.
I have been hooked on the barbecue for a long, long time. Thirty years ago while in graduate school, the snows of Michigan falling from the night sky, the “hibachi” grill would be glowing red under a tin foil “tent” on the porch of my apartment as burgers were cooked for roommates and friends…..beer in hand in twenty degree weather. When I moved to California twenty-six years ago, living the bachelor life along the southern coast, a new hibachi grill found its way onto my various patios as I moved from beach rental to beach rental, mai-tai to margarita. In time I graduated to the gas grill, still portable with wheels and removal propane tank, but very cool none-the-less, as was the vodka tonic or red wine always in hand. The true purity of igniting mesquite charcoal gave way to the simplicity of the blue/yellow gas flames. The ease of the flame and its constant heat became addictive and all powerful, right up there with the gas fireplace that long ago became preferred over messy wood logs, ashes and soot. Gas, not charcoal and wood, but still manly.
My wife and I married several years ago, both in our 50’s, and we moved from our individual domiciles to our current home, nothing fancy but very comfortable and enjoyable. And low-and-behold, as I walked out to the backyard patio, there sat an aging Ducane gas grill built into its own station. Without a doubt I had arrived, I was the man.
Similar to golf and other addictive activities men get involved in, the barbecue is no different. As soon as the Christmas holiday season displays are taken down in January bright stainless steel gas grills line the aisles at the local hardware store, Home Depot or Lowes. Coleman, Weber, Sunbeam, Viking, Char-Broil, Grill Master, Brinkman, Jenn-Air…they are like shiny new cars as they lure us to them to see the latest gadgets, imagining in our mind how we’d look standing next to this newest beauty. Under to hood, the power of multiple burners and tiered cooking racks is awesome, all controlled from a dashboard full of colorful control knobs, ignition switches and testosterone. “After factory” accessories such as a complimenting ice cooler or refrigerator complete with attached bottle opener insure that the cold beer or cocktail is never more than an arms length away. Big time guy stuff.
I cook outside on the grill 12 months a year, often most evenings of the week. Fish, chicken, steaks, burgers, corn-on-the-cob, vegetables…they go on raw, sometimes marinated, and come off moments later done to perfection….at least from my perspective. The same meal might come off the grill “more cooked” or more “singed” than the same meal a few nights before, but that’s because that’s how it is suppose to be on that particular evening. To strive for variety is a good thing. Cooking by one’s “instincts” rather than the cooking timer is all important, comparable to the fact that as men we don’t ask for directions when driving.
One of the great benefits of cooking on the barbecue is the reduction in pots and pans that need to be cleaned following the meal. After each meal, as I am sipping my after-dinner drink, I wander out to spend the last few minutes with the grill for the evening, still warm from the earlier cook. I scrap the rack fairly clean with my special heavy duty steel wool grill brush I bought at the hardware store and I’m pretty much done, short of the few dishes my wife and I do together at the end of any meal.
With the exception of a salad, rice or other side that might not be grilled, most often the meal is prepared on the grill and only a few tasks remain at the kitchen counter. My wife, after a long day at work, gets to relax a bit more rather than slave in the kitchen night after night cooking me my gigantic portions compared to her more sensible “elf food” portions. On the chillier nights when she comes out to check on the “progress” we will huddle by the warm grill and have a hug….another great benefit of the grill and a true source of encouragement for the grill master.
In time this got me to thinking…..I wonder, I just wonder…if women didn’t invent the barbecue grill, applying a little bit of child psychology to the male species. And if not invent it then have a serious hand in this enthusiasm over the barbecuing activity. The guys get to feel cool, important and manly, and the ladies get a bit of relief from the historically traditional role of cooking dinner every evening in the kitchen. If so, all I can say is “way to go ladies.”
And no sweetheart, the foods not burnt, that’s the way it’s supposed to look this evening.
It’s a guy thing.
G’Day friends, see you next Friday morning.