The minute the temperature climbs above 60 degrees, the smell of charcoal-broiled food wafts through my neighborhood.
I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on my road who doesn’t own a grill, not even a hibachi. It’s because I don’t trust myself around anything that can self-combust and force me to use the “stop, drop and roll!” technique I learned back in school.
Every time I think about our friend, Henry, who squirted lighter fluid onto red-hot coals and ended up having to wear a toupee for the next three months, I whip out my old frying pan.
It’s not as if I haven’t tried my hand at barbecuing. One of our neighbors once gave my husband and me his old grill, complete with a big sack of charcoal, when he purchased his new Deluxe Turbo-Flame gas-on-gas grill with a heavy-duty rotisserie big enough to roast a water buffalo.
A few nights after we became the proud new owners of the grill, I decided to surprise my husband by cooking up a batch of juicy cheeseburgers for him. He’d always said that nothing could beat the flavor of burgers cooked outdoors on a charcoal grill, so I knew he would be thrilled when he came home from work and I handed him a plate of burgers with telltale grill marks on them.
Getting the charcoal to light, however, was another story. Because I had no lighter fluid, I tried everything short of a flamethrower to get the briquettes started, but they refused to catch. And 200 matches later, when one briquette finally did light, I blew on it until my cheeks hurt and I felt lightheaded…and still the flame died.
I grew so frustrated, I took all of the charcoal out of the grill, lined the bottom with crumpled newspaper and stacked the charcoal back on top of it. Then I set the newspaper on fire. I also threw some dead maple leaves on top of the whole thing. I figured that maple tasted good on pancakes, so it might add a little extra flavor to the burgers.
I’d never cooked on a grill before so the burgers turned out just a tad on the well-done side. Actually, they resembled hollowed-out lumps of coal topped with overcooked, brown rubbery cheese. Not wanting to hurt my feelings, my husband choked them down.
“Well, how were they?” I asked after he’d finished.
“They had a really…unique flavor,” he said, then added under his breath, “A flavor that I’m sure will linger with me for the next few days.”
After that night, I refused to use the grill again, and for some reason, my husband didn’t want to attempt to try cooking on it, either. So we left it standing outside untouched for so long, the next time I lifted the lid on it, I found a big wasps’ nest inside. That did it. The grill mysteriously disappeared the next day.
One of the problems of not having a grill is that when I’m invited to barbecues at my friends’ houses, I can’t reciprocate and invite them to a barbecue at my place. But even if I did own a grill, I’m pretty sure none of my friends would show up to eat my burgers anyway – not unless they wanted to risk developing an intestinal blockage.
But I’m not the only one who’s not Wolfgang Puck when it comes to grilling. A few of the barbecues I’ve been to over the years haven’t exactly featured gourmet fare. I once was handed a hot-dog that had been burned so badly, it resembled a long cigar-ash in a bun. And at another barbecue, I cut into a chicken breast that was dark brown on the outside and bright pink on the inside. I could swear I saw the salmonella bacteria tap-dancing on it.
I did momentarily consider buying a gas grill, which I thought would simplify the lighting process, but just as I was about to go shopping for one, I saw a former neighbor on the evening news. She’d accidentally set the whole side of her house on fire and turned her vinyl siding into something that looked like stretched-out taffy, all because she’d used her gas grill on her tiny balcony. Considering my brief past history with grilling, I was fairly certain there was a good chance I could burn down all 10,000 acres of Bear Brook State Park, located right behind my house.
And then I saw a warning on TV about a woman who’d suffered weeks of severe abdominal pain after attending a barbecue. X-rays revealed she had a piece of wire from a wire brush used to scrub the grill clean, piercing her colon.
So I doubt there will be a grill in my yard any time soon, even though every time my dog and I go for a walk and I smell a steak barbecuing somewhere, my mouth waters and I put my nose up in the air, like a wolf catching the scent of its potential next meal. I’m always tempted to find the house and then use my dog to beg for food (believe me, she’s good at it).
If my craving for a grilled burger or steak gets severe enough, I just might seriously consider getting one of those indoor countertop electric grills.
But first I’ll make sure all of my smoke detectors have fresh batteries in them.