An Exercise in Barbecuing

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“An Exercise in Barbecuing” by DS Briggs is one of the funnier stories in Discoveries.

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An Exercise in Barbecuing

DS Briggs

Very recently I leapt into the world of backyard barbecuing. For years I have secretly wanted to learn to barbecue. In my family it was always my Dad’s domain. However, I love grilled foods and got tired of waiting for Mr. WeberRight to BBQ for me. I proudly acquired a very big, shiny new Weber BBQ. It came with a grown-up sized grill width of twenty-two and a half inches. I dubbed my new friend “Big Boy.”

Unfortunately, for me, Big Boy came in a big box with far too many pieces. It was with a definite leap of faith to undertake putting Big Boy together. He did not have written directions, nor a you-tube video and I have no degree in advanced “IKEA.”

Instead, Big Boy came with an inscrutable line drawing and lots of lines leading to alphabet letters. Still, I have my own Phillips’s head screwdriver. I used to call it the star-thingie until an old boyfriend corrected me. But I digress. Suffice to say, after trials and even more errors, I constructed Big Boy.

Okay, so it took me three hours instead of twenty minutes, but Big Boy was upright and proud. I just wanted to admire my handiwork by this time and Big Boy was clean, so very clean. In fact, he was too clean to use. I postponed the baptismal fire and nuked my dinner that night. In a couple of days, after repeated trips to the store for important and essential tools of the trade: A cover to keep Big Boy dry and clean, real mesquite wood to feed him, and long-handled tongs. For my own protection I bought massive mittens. I was almost ready to launch Big Boy. 

A few forays into the garage for additional must haves—my landlord’s trusty but rusty charcoal chimney fire starter can with a grate on the bottom and handle on the side and a dusty, spidery partial bag of charcoal in case my mesquite wood failed to turn into coals. I was finally ready to light up the barbecue. I chose to inaugurate Big Boy on a humid, somewhat breezy day. No gale force winds were predicted. As a precaution, I hosed down the backyard weeds. I found matches from the previous century and a full Sunday paper for starter fuel. The directions to stuff the bottom of the charcoal chimney can with crumpled newspaper and then load up the top part with either charcoal or wood sounded easy enough.

I chose to use the mesquite wood based on advice from Barbecue Bob, a friend of mine. I lit the chimney and soon had enough white smoke to elect the Pope. I waited the prerequisite twenty minutes for coals to appear. Nada. Nope. No coals in sight. The wood had not caught fire, although the paper left a nice white ash. Hungry, but not deterred, I re-stuffed the bottom of the charcoal chimney with more newspaper and set the whole chimney on top of a mini-Mount St. Helens pile of newspaper. I found smaller bits of wood since the lumber did not ignite. I lit the new batch of newspapers again. After a second dose of copious white smoke, miracle of miracles, the splinters of wood caught fire. Finally, it produced enough smoke for the oleanders to start talking.

“You do know it is a red flag day.” I know bushes don’t really talk, so I assumed the warning came from the owner of the fish-belly-white legs and flip-flops standing behind the tall, overgrown oleanders.

Having no clue what Flip-Flops meant, I explained that I was trying to learn how to BBQ. I asked what she meant by red flag day and she said that it was extreme fire danger in the hills. Aside from the fact that there was not a hill in sight, I told her that I had the hose at ready. I also asked Flip if BBQing was banned on red flag days. She didn’t know, however, I think I heard the word fire bug. Perhaps she just wanted to let me know that she knew who was playing with matches on a red flag day in case the fire department asked.

Reassuring Neighbor Fire Watch, I carefully emptied the chimney’s coals onto Big Boy’s smaller, lower but still sparkling clean grill. Using my mitts, I gently crowned Big Boy with the very clean, shiny huge upper grill. The sacrificial chicken had, at last, a final resting place. Whoosh! The previously white Pope smoke was now black and voluminous. Turns out olive oil makes lots of good smoke and less-than-helpful flare ups of flame. With my hands still ensconced in bright red mittens and using a very long tong, I turned the chicken. Only slightly blackened. I kept turning the chicken every five or ten minutes. More black, but not at the briquet stage—yet. I figured I had better recheck my BBQ Bible, the thick one with pictures so you can compare your results with theirs. Their advice was to cook the chicken until it had an internal temperature of 189 degrees Fahrenheit. I hoped Fire Watch was not watching because I dangerously left my BBQ unattended to go rummage through my kitchen drawers in search of an instant read thermometer. I knew that I would need it someday when I bought it a decade earlier. I inserted it and watched it slowly rise to 145 degrees. Only 44 more degrees to go but I was starving and the coals were cooling! I knew this because according to said Bible you hold your hand above the coals and count three Mississippi’s for good heat.

By the time I had counted “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi . . . fifteen Mississippi,” even I could tell the coals were dead. I pulled the chicken off the grill. The skin was definitely done. Delicious? No. Blackened? Yes. Delectable? No. Vaguely resemble the BBQ Bible’s picture? Not at all.

So for the lesson summary: Two hours of perseverance resulting in one hardly edible, even when finished-in-the oven chicken. Adding insult to injury I had a very dirty, sticky, greasy, too-large-for-my-sink grill to scrub.

Lesson learned: find a home for Big Boy and call take-out.

DS Briggs resides in Northern California with Moose, her very large, loving, and loud hound/lab mix. She has been privileged to contribute to Marlene Cullen’s Write Spot books: Discoveries, Possibilities, and Writing as a Path to Healing.

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