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By Staff | May 27, 2011

Spring has finally sprung! The wild plums and lilacs are foaming with a celebration of blossoms; the air is heavy with their heavenly perfume

This type of weather makes up for our 18 months of winter. If conditions were like this all the time, more people would want to live here, which would make this part of the world a bit less special and we probably wouldn’t care to live here anymore.

I pity those who inhabit areas where the climate is perpetually paradisiacal. They almost certainly lack an appreciation for how good they have it. There’s no icky to contrast with the wonderful, no dark to make one grateful for the light, no infinite sea of snowdrifts to make one feel like kissing the lawn when it finally greens up.

The return of balmy weather heralds the return of outdoor cooking.

Outdoor cooking is mainly the bailiwick of us guys. I don’t say this justbecause there’s tons of evidence to back up that belief, but mainly because I like to use the word “bailiwick.”

I think that men have largely taken charge of outdoor cooking due to the fact that it involves one very primal ingredient: fire. There’s nothing like an opportunity to fiddle with flames to get a guy’s juices going,

As with most master chefs, I have some trade secrets, the main one being that I always include our dog when cooking outdoors.

Whenever I grill, I make sure that our golden retriever is close at hand. He’ll sit at my feet with a hopeful grin, convinced that dogged persistence will win the day, his face the epitome of slobbery expectation. He reminds me of me when I was a bachelor.

When, not if, some sort of grilling mishap happens, I’ll “accidentally” drop the inedible item and it will disappear before gravity can bring it to the earth. The dog never questions his good fortune and what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen.

One of the main reasons men like being grill masters is that every boy has gone through a phase when he was fascinated with fire. Most boys grow out of this and become normal adults.

A very few might become pyromaniacs, but those who are really obsessed with fire turn into hot sauce addicts. They can be seen laying in the gutter, swilling Tabasco straight from the bottle.

As on many farms when I was a kid, ours had a burn barrel where household rubbish was incinerated. Tending the burn barrel was a stinky job that involved supervising a greasy, lazy fire. I loved it.

The burn barrel was a good place to learn about liquid accelerants from the petrochemical family. One quickly discovered how much was enough and what amount would produce a fireball that removed eyebrows and left you with a truly awful haircut.

It was during one of those burn barrel sessions that I first attempted outdoor cooking. Motivated by boredom and hunger, I stuck a wiener onto a stick and began to roast it over the burn barrel. I misjudged things and the wiener was soon ablaze.

The combination of the wiener’s mystery meat and the variety of combusted chemicals in the smoke gave the wiener, shall we say, an “interesting” flavor.

Our German shepherd happened to be hanging around and was only too happy to consume most of the wiener. This is how I learned the value of having a dog to assist when cooking outdoors.

I took a hiatus from outdoor cooking for some years, until my new bride brought home a hibachi grill from a rummage sale. It was purported that one could cook a hamburger on a hibachi grill by burning a single newspaper.

This was attempted several times, with universally dismal results. The burger failed to cook through and was left with a flavor that could best be described as nasty. I noticed that this flavor was especially offensive whenever the editorial section was used for fuel.

We soon purchased a kettle grill and I began to learn the fine art of constructing coal pyramids and estimating how much starter fluid to use. Only one or two mushroom clouds erupted from the grill during this learning process.

We currently have a high-tech propane grill. It burns quite cleanly and lighting it involves simply pushing a button.

On warm evenings I’ll sit on the deck as the nearby grill sizzles contentedly, its flames licking the scrumptious things inside. The only mushroom cloud in sight might be a lone cumulonimbus exploding on the eastern horizon, its popcorn face a startling snow-white amidst the purpling twilight.

The dog sits at my feet, expectant.

“Don’t worry,” I’ll say, scratching his ear. “Something good is bound to happen!”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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