Shortly after singeing the hair on my arm while igniting the family barbecue grill, I made a couple of important observations. First, I should have an extinguisher close at all times when working with fire. Second, one never seems to get used to the smell of burning flesh.
Editor’s note: While Ken is on vacation, we are featuring some of his previous columns. This was originally published in 2004.
Shortly after singeing the hair on my arm while igniting the family barbecue grill, I made a couple of important observations.
First, I should have an extinguisher close at all times when working with fire.
Second, one never seems to get used to the smell of burning flesh.
But, more importantly, I observed I was carrying out a tradition that probably dated back to prehistoric times when the Lea brothers, Ugg and Hoam, returned from hunting large reptiles and placed them on the family fire in front of their cave.
Then, minutes later they also discovered the meaning of “well done,” after realizing tongs were not yet invented for removing meat from the fire.
I take a certain pride in cooking meat with only the aid of propane, the ingenious rectangular design of my steel grill and a few mesquite wood chips.
There was a time when I, too, was more primitive in my cooking techniques. I used charcoal.
But after years of dodging the inevitable odds from adding fuel to a lit fire I didn’t feel was hot enough for cooking bratwursts, I decided to go with something a little safer.
Today, after breaking the igniter switch during a moving accident, I simply reach along one side of the burner with a butane lighter, turn on the propane and begin the burnt finger dance while mouthing expletives.
It’s become a dinner tradition around our house and brings a great deal of humor to others in the family.
In a strange sort of way, I’m probably adding a few years to their lives since laughter really is the best medicine.
But all those years of cooking have provided me insight into working with a variety of meat, however.
I’ve cooked beef, pork, chicken, fish, a variety of wild game and even vegetables.
Experimenting with every conceivable kind of marinade and a couple of salad dressings, I’ve accomplished making meat taste like a number of things other than meat.
Until recently, I thought I had captured the essence of being a “Grill Meister.”
However, an e-mail message from “The Barbecue Store” showed me, in a barbecue industry, I am no more than a packet of seasoning salt.
The first thing I noticed was my basting wand lacked a certain virility when compared to the 18-inch “basting mop,” advertised on the company’s website.
I wondered how often I actually would use a mop to glaze my entrees, but decided its use could be dual-fold — doubling as a way to clean under cabinets inside the house when I wasn’t cooking an entire side of beef.
There also was an innovative accessory called a “chicken tube.” The text stated, “It’s never been easier to roast a chicken.”
While I never actually roasted a chicken, I probably would begin by asking, “What do you get when you cross a chicken with a guitar? A bird that makes sweet music as you pluck it.”
There were accessories available I never heard of before. Things like ceramic basting jars, chick cans, egg rings, extra-long tongs, an attachment for holding drinks, meat hook flippers and something called, “Bear Paws.”
Since every item was described as a “must have” for the family griller, I approximated each purchase and made another observation:
If I bought all of them, I no longer would have money for the meat.
So instead, I’m forced to continue my slightly historic approach to cooking … with a basting wand, plastic seasoning jars, regular-sized tongs, hand-held beverages and a couple of smoking fingers.
Ken Knepper is publisher of The Newton Kansan and The McPherson Sentinel. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.