Monday, October 27th, 2014

I dried out the pork chops. They were thick and juicy and marinated to perfection when I put them on the grill, but I left them on about fifteen minutes too long. I’m going to blame rain and a faulty thermometer.

When I say they were thick, I mean they were the thickest pork chops I’ve ever seen in my life. I know I tend to exaggerate, saying “a gojillion” when I mean “five,” but honestly, these pork chops were at least an inch and a half thick, so when I built the fire, I banked the hot coals up either side of the grill so the chops wouldn’t be right over the fire. It would take at least thirty minutes to cook them, so I added more charcoal and, while I was down in the basement doodling around with something on the internet for about ten minutes, waiting for the new charcoal to catch, I came back upstairs to a cloudburst! But the fire was still plenty hot, so I covered it and gave it another ten minutes to dry out the top layer of briquettes before I put the chops on.

With the fires banked up the sides and the chops in the middle, I figured it would take about thirty minutes to cook them to perfection. There was some discussion about what perfection would look like. With chops that thick, I wanted to make sure they were safely cooked all the way through, but the source I googled said cook it to one-sixty, and the source B googled said one forty-five. I was going to decide after I slipped a thermometer into the first chop at the half-hour mark.

Hmmm. One-thirty, maybe one thirty-five. Not nearly cooked enough. I covered the grill and trotted back inside to get out of the rain, and waited another ten minutes before I checked it again. I knew from the way that the meat resisted being stabbed by the thermometer that it was done this time, but the thermometer only climbed to one-forty. What the hell?

I took them inside anyway, put them on the table and announced that dinner was served. My Darling B tucked into hers with enthusiasm and even after she made a face, she wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, but as soon as I popped a piece into my mouth I knew: The thermometer lied! I should have taken them off at thirty minutes.

“They’re not inedible,” B said, munching away at hers. True. But it was a sad end to what had been a beautiful pair of pork chops.

overdone | 6:01 am CST
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Friday, August 22nd, 2014

I think I get ribs now. I used to wonder why other people made all that fuss over them. Gristly, mostly bone, dripping with sauce that got all over your face and hands. What’s the big deal? I couldn’t figure it out, so I haven’t bothered with ribs for, um, decades? I can’t recall the last time I ate ribs.

Well, I can, actually. It was last weekend. We brought a rack of ribs home from the butcher on a whim. We were looking for something different to grill and that was something I’d never tried to cook. B said she was thinking of a sauce, and that was all the excuse we needed.

I cooked it over a low fire on the grill. B made a cherry sauce that I slathered on as thickly as I could without using a trowel. When I set it on the table after two hours of cooking, it smelled so good. We made a huge mess of our hands and faces gnawing on them until there was nothing but bone and gristle left. And I ate quite a lot of the gristle, just because the sauce made it that good. So maybe I won’t wait years to try it again.

ribs | 5:57 am CST
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Monday, August 4th, 2014

In spite of the dark clouds overhead last night, I knew it wasn’t going to rain. Knew it. It was too hot to rain, it didn’t smell like rain, and it hadn’t rained in four weeks. I was gonna light a fire in the grill and burn some sirloin steaks for dinner, because there would be no rain.

Almost as soon as I lit the fire and went inside, it started to rain great big drops, the kind that sound so much like hail stones that I was looking around for them as I dumped the coals into the grill and covered it, just as a precaution. I still had no doubt in my mind this was just a passing shower and it would be over in a minute, but what I started the fire with was all the charcoal we had, so I wanted to keep it as dry as possible. The briquettes at the bottom of the chimney I use for firestarting already had orange-glowing fringes, but the charcoal at the top was cold. If it got wet at all, it would make starting the fire that much harder.

Almost as soon as I went back inside, the rain stopped. I figured, give it a few minutes, just to make sure, so I sat back to finish the newspaper article I had been reading.

I was three or four paragraphs from the end when the rain started coming down again, harder this time. I put the paper down and went to frown at the rain from the front door. The sun was shining! There was one – One! – dark cloud overhead dumping rain on us, rain that got heavier and heavier with each passing minute.

I would’ve wheeled the grill into the garage and started the fire in there if I’d thought for a second that it might actually rain so hard. Now the grill was too hot to move, all the charcoal I had was in it, and the fire hadn’t spread to more than a half-dozen coals. If I opened the lid in this downpour, even under the protection of an umbrella, I’d probably lose the fire.

There was no way we were going to eat sirloin steak broiled in the oven, though, not at the price we paid for it. Had to be done on the grill for that oh-so-smoky flavor and a criss-crossing of blackened grill lines. Nothing for it but to hop into the O-Mobile and drive to the corner store to pick up another bag of charcoal. Back home, I started a second fire in the emergency back-up Weber grill (got to be ready for anything) that I had wheeled into the garage.

Once that fire was hot enough to throw the steaks on, the rain stopped and not another drop fell on our neighborhood all night. Of course.

downpour | 6:00 am CST
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Sunday, April 13th, 2014

The grill! I fired up the grill! It’s grill time again! Oh happy day! These are the rites of spring I dream of all winter long! Wadding up the paper, piling up the charcoal, striking the match, tending the red-hot coals. The meat patties sizzling as they grow plump on the grille. I am so giddy now that it’s time for this again!

spring, omnipotent goddess, thou dost
inveigle into grilling burgers and franks the
hopeful cheesehead and the grateful dinner guest.

cookout | 7:32 am CST
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Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Lake trout grilled on the trusty Weber for dinner tonight. I laid out two fillets on a sheet of tinfoil with a dollop of butter – *bliss!* There was a moment of doubt when it seemed as though the fire was too hot to do a proper job of cooking the fillets all the way through without burning the skin, but as it happened I caught the mistake just in time, smothered the fire and brought the Weber down to just the right temp to finish the job. My Darling B brought a dish of steamed potatoes with dill to the table. What a team we make.

lake trout dinner | 9:20 pm CST
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Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Sometime last week I grilled a big slab of salmon on the Weber for the first time this season, but it doesn’t count as the first ceremonial cook-out. That would’ve been last night when I boiled brats in beer, then grilled them to crispy brown perfection over hot coals. Man, that’s good eatin’!

ceremonial | 7:37 pm CST
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Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Tonight’s dinner was not cooked on lumber. That means just what it says. I prepared and served a delicately broiled slab of salmon for guy night, and I did it without making a trip to the work shop to dig a rough-sawn cedar plank or a leftover length of select pine from the lumber pile.

I’m not just talking gibberish here. Apparently cooking your salmon on a plank is the greatest thing since JFK boinked Marilyn Monroe. I’m just guessing that the JFK / Marilyn thing was pretty great. It’s not like I’ve seen their lost sex tape or anything like that. How do you suppose that went down, anyway? JFK called up the Secret Service one night when he couldn’t sleep and told them, Get me Marilyn Monroe, and don’t ask any questions! Just wondering. I suppose I’d look it up if I had the time. Or cared.

I have never heard of cooking salmon, or anything, on a plank before this morning when the announcers on Wisconsin Public Radio, who have been begging for money all week, announced that they had twenty tickets to a cook-out at which Mad Dog and Merrill would be cooking and serving salmon … salmon on a plank. Joy Cardin’s voice was so hoarse after a solid week of telethoning that she was barely audible, but she stuck it out all morning, determined to sell these tickets.

And it was a very big deal. You had to donate at least $1,200.00 to get a pair of tickets, apparently because Mad Dog and Merrill were doing the cooking. I like to think I’m pretty handy with a Weber grill, but am I supposed to know these guys?

I don’t doubt that there are a lot of novel ways to prepare salmon, and even some that will let you present a dish that will impress your guests, but why cook on a plank? How does that make sense? Salmon is at its best when it’s broiled until it’s just about to brown, then served unadorned so you taste nothing but salmon. It’s not supposed to taste like cedar, or whatever. You want to eat something that tastes like cedar, then I’ll pour you a great big bowl of sawdust and you can spoon it up with some milk & sugar. I’ll be sitting at the big people’s table savoring the salmon.

grilling with lumber | 7:38 am CST
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