Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's June 2021 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
The family barbecue: One of man’s last bastions of masculinity, where he is Captain Kirk, Admiral Ackbar, General of the Felix Legions, and Lord of the Manor. His weapon of choice? A spatula. His army of one? A perfectly engineered, stainless steel contraption of gas, knobs, and fire, all working together — to cook meat. Could it possibly get better? Absolutely! Just add beer to the chef, kids playing in the yard, a faithful hound snoozing nearby, and a few birds chirping in the trees. Like the Good Wife is fond of saying, “Those are days I live for.”
But truth be told, it is one area of common ground shared by most, especially beginning in early summer. Sure, many diehards grill yearlong in the harshest conditions, shoveling through drifts and scraping ice from the hood, only to discover an empty tank and then it’s pan-fried burgers for dinner … again. But most folks cover their beloved barbecue until warm weather abounds and fill their yards with the sweet fragrance of sizzling steaks, brats, and chicken. Like orchards exploding with cherries and beaches brimming with brave swimmers, it’s one of those certain signs that pleasant temperatures are here to stay in these parts.
Hanging out with family and friends while barbecuing ranks high on America’s greatest pastime hits. With kids enthralled in a game of cornhole and moms, dads, and neighbors chatting away, seasoned food on a pre-lit grill is like the curtain going up on a Broadway show. Indeed, that outdoor smell is the exclamation point of backyard fun, as juicy scents linger and mouths water at the upcoming feast. It’s a happy place many of us visit — yours truly included — as often as possible.
In fact, it’s so special that we’re willing to tolerate certain mishaps that normally make our veins bulge, faces turn red, and a new word invented in front of the kids. Like the infuriating yet coveted igniter switch. Of all the grills I’ve owned, one switch worked … for two minutes. Normally, if anything is faulty out of the box, it’s back to the store we go. But a new grill? Ain’t no big thing! Just start splicing wires until something sparks, stand back, close your eyes, and hope the house is still there when you open them. Or, better yet, weave your arm like a contortionist all the way to the little gas porthole and pull the trigger on a clicky lighter. Works every time, and no one really needs two eyebrows, anyway.
Or the stainless-steel grates guaranteed you’ll never burn through even though the store sells replacements for $29.95 each; evidently, they blow away in a stiff wind. What about the temperature gauge that reads 600 degrees whether it’s lit or not? Or two unbelievably helpful selling amenities: the rotisserie cooker (with accompanying 27 doodad attachments), and its ugly cousin, the side burner. Neither of which anyone has ever used. Ever.
And lastly, the spic and span catch pan you vow to clean after every use, until you clean it once, and nearly hurl. Luckily, it’s out of sight when we cook, hiding the accumulating wastewater treatment pond it has become — ironic given that a worn wire brush suffices for scraping last night’s still semi-juicy leftovers before grilling again. Doubly ironic considering that frying something indoors on the stove in an unwashed pan is disgusting, but perfectly acceptable when grilling. And I’m fine with that.
Inevitably, though, despite better care than most newborns receive, our faithful companion gives way to rust, a wheel falls off, gas leaks, or the entire system simply croaks from old age. Thankfully, this is not the end, for we’re already out the driveway and headed to the home and garden store. Who says you can’t celebrate Christmas in August?