Nowhere is there more blatant evidence of the psychoemotional differences between man and woman than when it comes to cooking. Women cook egg whites and flaky pie crusts and croissants.
Men cook things that bleed.
There has always been a mysterious life force that drives men to barbecue. Some deep primal instinct commands the male of the species to act out ritualistic aggression on spent animal flesh. It’s a likely holdover from the Mesozoic Era, when men were apes and women wore skirts, and mountains were still warm to the touch.
Over the years, women have conceded this culinary ritual to the men in their lives. They busy themselves in the kitchen with simple and feminine exercises. Baking and frying and boiling and poaching. Stooping and lifting and sweating and scalding. Meanwhile, in keeping with an equitable division of domestic labor, men poke chunks of meat around on an outside grill with long-handled forks and swill beer and holler periodically for barbecue ac-couterments like salt or seasoning sauce or fiame-retardant chemicals to help control the meltdown taking place in the $4.95 hibachi.
Little boys learn the secrets of barbecuing from their fathers. This generational passing-of-the-baton usually occurs on or about the child’s sixteenth birthday. Fondly do I remember my own father leading me down the path of pyrogastronomical knowledge to barbecue wisdom:
“Davey, it’s time you and I have our little talk,” Dad said one hot summer evening.
“Don’t worry, Dad” I reassured him. “Peggy Sue taught me everything I’ll ever need to know, last Friday night.”
“I’m talking barbecue, son.”
“Right. I knew that.”
While Mom was busying herself in the kitchen shucking corn, snapping beans, kneading bread, boiling rice, steaming cauliflower, baking apples, and churning ice cream, Dad and I went out to the back yard to start the fire.
That day I learned that the first step in the successful cooking of animal flesh is the proper stacking of charcoal briquettes inside a flimsy metal bowl perched precariously on tin legs (the charcoal grill). For the uninitiated, charcoal briquettes are geometrically square black rocks blown free with dynamite from larger black rocks that make up the earth’s tectonic plates. (Some geophysicists speculate that uncontrolled mining of charcoal briquettes will eventually lead to a weakening of the earth’s crust and the swallowing up of entire cities of the likes of Hurst and Euless. But for the most part, these are geophysicists who have family or friends living in Hurst and Euless, and such predictions should never be taken seriously.)
Charcoal briquettes should be carefully stacked in the center of the grill in the general shape of an Egyptian pyramid approximately four and one half feet high. Once the structure is sufficiently stable, and because it is basically a collection of rocks, and because anybody with half a brain knows that rocks don’t burn, the pile of briquettes is ignited with the help of pyrochemical technology. This is where the maturity and wisdom of the father figure comes directly to bear on the success or failure of the barbecue.
Traditional methodology requires the squirting on of pungent liquids commonly known as charcoal lighter fluids. These liquids can be found under trade names like Smoke-a-Plenty or Flame-Be-Gone, and purchased over-the-counter at any convenience store. A common misconception is that charcoal lighter fluids actually start fires. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. In industrial application, charcoal lighter fluids are used to put out accidental flare-ups around nitroglycerine plants. (Stand behind the chain link fence at any such facility and you’ll see workmen scurrying about carrying squeeze bottles of charcoal lighter fluid strapped to their thighs.)
For residential purposes, charcoal lighter fluid makes an excellent flying insect repellant, especially if you live near a swamp or open sewer. As a bonus, charcoal lighter fluid gives otherwise fresh meat that tangy, industrial odor and taste.
Here’s the technique: standing directly over the charcoal grill, squirt Flame-Be-Gone over the top, sides, and bottom of the rock monolith. Soak each briquette until the whole configuration is swimming and the ’ rising pond of chemicals threatens to spill over the sides of the grill and destroy green lawn life for three growing seasons. Next, strike a wooden kitchen match on the zipper of your jeans and casually dip the flaming stick into the liquid until it is extinguished. Repeat with a second kitchen match, and another, and another. (Break for frequent swills of beer.)
Once the perimeter of the rock pyramid is sufficiently littered with extinguished wooden kitchen matches, and flying insects have retreated to a kinder, gentler atmosphere, disappear into the garage and return with a five-gallon can of gasoline. Splash the gasoline about the briquettes, clear away all plant and animal life for a distance of a hundred yards, then toss a lit cigarette butt into the grill while sprinting for the cover of fence or woodpile.
When the resulting firestorm has died down to something like 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (forget thermometers-use your judgment here), it’s time to put on the meat.
First, let’s cover a few meat basics. In the first place, no self-respecting male would be caught dead barbecuing the flesh from anything lower on the evolutionary scale than cattle or swine. This rules out fowl of any kind. And. let me add, chopped swine. I’m talking wienies, here. No adolescent boy wants to grow up to be barbecuer of chickens and wienies. Men barbecue steaks and chops. Passibly hamburger patties, but only if they’re roughly the size and weight of cement construction blocks. But that’s it. Period.
The grill upon which said steaks or chops will cook should be chiseled free of residual meat products left over from previous barbecues. A Craftsman brand two-horsepower disc sander performs satisfactorily (consider eye protection if you are particularly susceptible to flying petrified beef particles).
Once the meat products are slapped down on the grill, tradition has it that the woman adorns the barbecuing male with ritualistic apparel: a full-length apron emblazoned with the words, Best Darn Cook In The Entire Universe As We Know It. A cornucopia of long-handled utensils is made available to the chef: forks, prongs, and assorted poke-’ums. Beer flows freely and male bonding kicks into high gear. Fondly do I remember the intimate conversations with my own father as we stood watching spent animal flesh sizzle and spit:
“How ’bout them Yankees, son?”
“Can I flip the steaks this time, Dad?”
“How ’bout them Cardinals, son?”
“Can I have a sip of your beer, Dad?”
“How ’bout them Red Sox, son? “
How ’bout that yellow jacket on the back of your neck, Dad?”
“Great God Almighty, boy! Hit ’em with the charcoal lighter fluid!”
In addition to temperature control, the length of time that a meat product spends on the grill will determine either its tasty outcome or dismal demise. Savvy bar-becuers use the following rules of thumb to produce consistent results that satisfy even the most persnickety of palates:
Rare: With the temperature of the grill surface hot enough to toast low-flying Canadian Geese, allow the meat products to cook anywhere from fifteen to thirty-three seconds, flipping once. Although the meat will be welded to the metal grid from the intense heat, the center should be cool and only slightly flustered. Residual bovine muscular reflexes should fight back when prodded with a long-handled poke’um. Chip, chisel, or pry the finished product from the grill and announce in a booming voice, “Yo! We got some monster steaks ready out here! Who’s ready for some monster steaks!” (Females will materialize out of nowhere with platters to catch the monster steaks as the male of the species flips them off the grill.)
Medium: With the temperature of the gril surface hot enough to curl the roofing shingles on neighboring homes, allow the meat products to cook anywhere from thirty three to sixty-three seconds, flipping twice The meat’s center should be warm and fuz zy. Chip, chisel, or pry the finished produc from the grill and announce in a booming voice, “Yo! More monster steaks out here Hey.. .these babies aren’t gonna eat themselves! Ha, ha!” (Once again, females will materialize to cart off the finished product.)
Well Done: With the temperature of the grill surface hot enough to turn the backyard fruit tree into Apple Betty on a stick, allow the meat products to cook anywhere from sixty-three seconds to three and one-half hours, flipping thrice. The meat’s center should be indistinguishable from the charcoal briquettes. Chip, chisel, or pry the finished product from the grill and announce in a booming voice, “Yo! Last of the monster steaks out here! What say we just inhale these suckers right off the grill! Har dee har har!” (Here come the females.)
Barbecued meat products should be served up on searing metallic platters and ladled with barbecue sauce, relish, ketchup, and horseradish slurry (the time-honored way of disguising the taste of the charcoal lighter fluid). Sensitive and understanding females will take care to oooh and ahhh with each dainty bite, and frequently reach over to feel the male’s biceps.
Sensitive and understanding females will also have a pot roast simmering in the oven-just in case.