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In an age when domestic duties and parenting tasks transcend traditional gender stereotypes, the grill is still a guy’s domain.
Gas grills are easy to light, cook quickly and don’t produce the amount of emissions that burning wood does.
Monday, July 1, 2013
A couple of weekends ago, several families in my neighborhood got together for the Great American Backyard Campout. Being the great Americans that we are, we pitched tents, pulled up the camp chairs, popped tops on cold beverages and turned the block into a private campground.
Naturally, we had a grill on the premises. Two grills, in fact.
At one point, my wife pointed out that one of the neighbor dudes had been marooned by the grill for nearly an hour, cooking and flipping the “silver turtles” — packs of hamburger, potatoes, vegetables and seasonings that have sustained campers since the discovery of aluminum foil.
The late-afternoon sun was bearing down on the space around the grills, which was pretty warm already because, you know, grills are pretty good at that. Concerns were raised that the grill man needed relief.
I told everybody to chill (even if the griller could not). He’s got an open beer in one hand, a spatula in the other and he’s standing three feet from burning meat. He’s in his zone.
Guys love to grill. Put a man who cannot make a bowl of Cheerios next to an open flame and suddenly he becomes the Wolfgang Puck of backyard burgers.
A fiery refuge
The reason why guys love grilling is because it involves two of our favorite things — fire and food.
Men love setting things on fire. Trash, charcoal, flatulence — if it’ll burn, we’ll set a match to it. Combine that with the fact that we like to eat and you’ve got the perfect recipe for hickory-smoked fun.
Michael Hemphill, whom I profiled a couple of weeks ago in a Dadline column about the challenges of 21st-century fatherhood, suspects that the grill is a father’s refuge, a place where he can stand alone and enjoy a bit of fiery solitude.
While standing at the grill, a guy can tell the kids, “Stay away! This grill is hot!” He can tell his wife, “I got the burgers, dear. You can help with the salad.”
In an age when domestic duties and parenting tasks transcend their traditional gender stereotypes, the grill is still a guy’s domain, which harks back to the romantic images of the campfires at the end of a hard day of punchin’ dogies and drivin’ the herd.
“Is there an American Old West cowboy-on-the-range archetype at play here?” Hemphill wondered.
I think there’s something to that comparison. Then again, I have never punched a dogie (or anyone else) and the only time I have driven cattle has been on the way home from the supermarket.
I wanted the perspective of a professional, so I called Mark Baldwin, owner of Blue Ridge Catering in Roanoke. Baldwin doesn’t have children, but he said his father was “the grillmaster” of his family when growing up.
Back then, a backyard cookout of burgers, dogs, chops and steaks might be the only time Dad ever made a meal.
“Dad’s excuse was that was all he knew how to make,” Baldwin said.
Now, however, many of Baldwin’s clients are men who do the cooking and don’t need a backyard barbecue to show their chops, so to speak. Yet, men still stand by their grill.
“It’s a tradition that kind of carries over,” Baldwin said. “Maybe it’s got something to do with man conquering fire.”
I’m a charcoal guy
Grilling is pretty easy — have flame, have meat, come one, let’s eat! — but there is an art to it, too. If you use coals, you have to make sure they are burning evenly. Certain kinds of meat require different levels of heat. “It’s easy to mess up,” Baldwin said.
I prefer wood and other kinds of charcoals to keep my homefires burning. Many of the guys in my ’hood have gas grills, which are easy to light, cook quickly and are better for the environment because they don’t produce the amount of emissions that burning wood does.
I feel a bit guilty, I guess, when I light my grill, as I envision huge swaths of virgin mesquite forests wiped out by clear-cutting, just so I can enjoy a grilled burger and ear of corn.
But I recently read that mesquite is considered an invasive species in some places, so maybe I am doing native plants a favor every time I barbecue chicken breasts. What a tasty way to help the environment!
Gotta go now. The coals look like they’re just right.
Ralph Berrier Jr.’s column runs every other Monday in Extra.
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