Summer in the midwest is a great time of year. Things slow down a bit, and there are many fun things to do with family and friends. And then there is the food. Summer is the time for manly outdoor cooking. You know, the kind that involves meat and fire. At my house, that means that it is time to re-activate my grille.
Let me state up front that I do not consider myself to be a great barbecue chef. I am not awful at it, and can grille a main course that is not too complicated and (usually) not screw it up. I like to think that I am a bit above average at the craft. But then don’t we all.
I am not, for example, like a friend of mine who can (and does) cook pretty much everything that can be cooked or smoked with wood or charcoal. I was at a party at his house recently and watched him begin carving the entire pig that he had roasted. It was, of course, delicious – as is everything he cooks. But it is the kind of barbecuing ability that I lack. Whether it is the want of ability or the absence of a desire to put that kind of time into making food, I don’t know. One thing I do know is that it would require me to get some new grilling equipment, which is something that I just see no need to do.
When I was young, I had virtually no experience in outdoor grilling. My father was pretty good at it and I would watch him work the tongs with burgers and hot dogs and the occasional steak. But other than watching while he ran into the house for this or that, I was just a spectator.
But that changed in the summer of 1984. I had just finished my second year of law school, and several of my roommates and friends stayed in Indianapolis working as law clerks instead of going back to our respective hometowns. Now was the time, I decided, to become a man and buy a grille.
There were two schools of thought on buying grilles in that period of life. Some folks would buy the cheapest charcoal grille they could find in the seasonal aisle of the Osco Drug store. Those buyers would milk all of the life they could get out of it, then throw it in the trash and repeat. Or, there was the idea of buying a quality charcoal grille that a fellow could get a good long service life out of. A third option was a gas grille, but I wasn’t going there. First, they were priced well out of my student’s budget. But even more, it just seemed like cheating. If I was going to master the art of outdoor cookery, it would have to involve hot coals. Maybe, I figured, I would graduate to gas someday (as my father had done years before). But a man must walk before he can run.
I had been scanning the newspapers for awhile by then. I had pretty much decided that a Weber kettle grille would be my path. This was no cheap throwaway. High quality parts made for a high quality grille. The porcelain coated steel shell would be durable in the weather, and its round shape made for even cooking. Also, the tightly-fitting lid with adjustable venting made for perfect control. At least it sounded good when I read from the boxes in the store. But I would just have to wait for that pesky $59.95 price to come down.
Finally it happened – some store (which I have long forgotten) came down to $49.95 and I was right there with cash in hand. My roommate Dave and I loaded the big box into my Plymouth Scamp and back to our apartment we went to assemble my new prize. Soon I had it together and there I was – the owner of a grille! Bring on the meat, boys. Oh yes, and some beer too.
Fast-forward to June of 2016. There have been a lot of changes in my life in those thirty-two years. A law degree, a job, a house, a wife and three kids who are now in (or are
approaching) the real world make my life a lot different now than it was then. But one thing has not changed – I still have that same black Weber kettle grille, which is well into its thirty-third grilling season. With nary a single part ever replaced, I might add.
I have wondered sometimes why I have never gotten a new one. Most of my friends own some pretty nice gas grilles. “It’s so convenient” they say. “I come home from work and I can start cooking right away.” And they are right. But I just prefer the taste of food cooked over charcoal, and consider it worth the bit of extra bother from lighting the fire and getting the coals up to temp.
Weber has also made a couple of improvements over the years, with a larger size and an improved ash-disposal system. And if I were cooking five evenings a week on it, I might have made the jump. But I am not that dedicated. An evening or two a week (when I am really at it) has not been enough to pull me away from my old grilling buddy.
And I have to confess, I have no plans to replace it any time soon. The legs are a bit more wobbly than they were in the ’80s, but then so are mine, so I think we understand each other. In spite of keeping it out of direct sun and rain, the wooden handles are getting a mite loose and some rust is getting a toehold here and there. In all things that affect the way it works, however, it does its thing just as well as it ever did.
Planned obsolescence is something that gets to me. I hate the idea of having to shell out to replace perfectly good things that can’t stand up to normal use over what I (perhaps a bit unreasonably) consider to be a normal lifespan. My grille, however, has defied planned obsolescence. Who would have thought in 1984 that my $49.95 grille would outlive both Michael Jackson and Prince? Certainly not me. But I try not to think of it that way. Instead, I concentrate on that one more good meal I expect to get from it each time I light the charcoal. I have not done a pork loin yet this year, maybe it’s time.