Amid the lingering piles of snow, I sat out by the pit, like men do, enjoying the last sunbeams of the day. Nothing was on the grill tonight, as I didn’t have time really. We had to be somewhere in 45 minutes, and I had thus released the option of grilling tonight; something just not in the roll of the BBQ dice. But as the black-capped chickadee lit upon my bird feeder, I noted out of the corner of my eye, the little Weber standing stoically in place, childishly straddling its mountainous pan of ash. It was giving me the look again, the one it always gives me, every time I step out onto the patio. Like puppy dogs or cute babies, the grill knows how to work me, how to manipulate me, and eventually, how to get its way. I look at the clock. I look at the grill. Back to the clock. The grill. If the Weber had a bottom lip, it was jutted out pretty nice. Patron to pathetic indeed, and just a little bit inconsiderate.
“Fine then”, I muttered to the grill, as I grabbed the charcoal chimney in one easy motion, filling it three-quarters with coal, and plunking a couple chunks of apple wood on top. I crammed some papers up its bottom end, and put flame to it with a mechanical ease born of sheer muscle memory. Before I knew it, smoke was bellowing into the air, as I stood abreast of the little pit, mentally improvising a menu.
“I’ll give you what you want”, I said, “But it won’t be pretty”. The little Weber seemed delighted if but just for a moment, that it was going to get used. And a man’s pit should get used, just as often as it can be, for not only to season it, but to foster a degree of sanity upon one’s own meat lust, and the ever-abiding need to occasionally burn things. It is good for us.
Quick and dirty like, with no motion for poetry, I slapped together some winglets, gently seasoned in Lawry’s, and set them to sear in an orange blaze of apple wood. I had also been in the mood all day for a simple grilled cheese sandwich, so I tossed on one of them too, delicately toasting it over the bed of coals. Now some might hazard it plum foolery to cook his grilled cheese out on the grill, forsaking a nice kitchen range, but I contend that “on the grill” is the way it was always meant to be, and couldn’t be more fitting, nor more honorable to its namesake. The trick to really grilling your grilled cheese to watch it closely. Like a high maintenance relationship, keep checking in on it, and nurturing it as necessary. Yes, I suppose you could do it inside on the stove top like you’ve done all your life, and that is good too, but you would at once miss the tweety birds flirt amid the dogwoods, and the sun light slant through the fragrant spruce, and the wispy aroma of the grill, the fresh air, and the fellowship of the coals.
Grilled Cheese and Chicken. In a few short minutes, the call of the Weber had been pacified, and supper thus procured. Victory snatched from the jaws of haste. The little grill looked a trifle more at ease now, resting contentedly, smoldering quietly the last of its hot coals. Basking in the wake of deeds well done. Tomorrow, it will want to do it again. That’s the way man-pit relationships go. We just have to deal with it. True, good BBQ is all about taking our time, and that is always preferable than rushing head-long through it. But it is still better to have grilled and grilled fast, than not to have grilled at all. Because it is our stead-fast belief, or at least our sincere hope, that time spent grilling is not deducted from one’s life span. Which is handy, because it may take a life time even, to aptly tame your Weber.
I went out to the grill the other night, in routine fashion to tend the meat, and found myself for a time just standing there, staring into the hot, glowing coals. It was a crisp night, and the heat from the fire felt good on my hands. And the sky was dark, and scattered with stars, shimmering vanward to a blackened infinity. I turned up the collar on my smoking jacket, and noted momentarily how pleasant it was – this fire, this night. The simple pleasures of loitering pit-side, while lovingly doting over a piece of meat. I just love it. But why. Why would a grown man of apt intelligence forsake a perfectly good stove top, and a heated house, to go instead outside, into the cold, and cook his supper in the humbling style of hobos and passing vagrants. I pushed the meat over indirect heat, paused, and thought about it for a while.
The reasons reside I suspect, with the soft-rising tendrils of smoke, and the waving mirages of heat against a pale, crescent moon. With the dancing flames, and the aromas of smoldering wood. It might also be because of all the many campsites beneath whispering pines I am thus reminded of, every time I strike a match, and kindle a fire. Because meat cooked over an open fire is at once a pleasure, and akin to something deeper in our souls than electric skillets or microwave ovens. Because of the freshened air which expands my chest, and the Black Capped Chickadees which flirt yonder, in the stately trees. Because BBQ is a fickle pursuit, and you are not always so sure how it will turn out. And because good BBQ takes time, lots of time, and loitering over a beautiful bed of coals, with my tongs in hand, is at once a stand of small defiance, in a falling world wrought with haste. And that is no small thing.
Because one day I might smoke the perfect rack of ribs.
Indeed, the reasons are many I suppose, of why we do what we do. And I suppose too there are plenty of other ways to cook a cut of meat, that will taste just as good, and surely a might more comfortable than standing out in the cold. But scarce any of them, let it be said, are nearly so much fun as this; with this fire, this night out-of-doors, under magnificent skies, and over fiery beds of glowing coal. Ah yes. The simple pleasures patron to the pit, and to those who tarry there. This I suspect, is why I grill by and by, and why it is we do what we do.
That, and I like to eat! Amen.