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Gentlemen, Start Your Barbecues

July 13, 1998|JIM SHEA

4. . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

All systems are go.

We have ignition.

We have barbecue-off.

That rumbling you feel is the vibration of a zillion oversized gas grills being fired up.

That mushroom cloud billowing up on the other side of the fence is the byproduct of a jumbo bag of fluid-soaked briquettes being torched.

That aroma is from all manner of fish, fowl and beast being charred beyond recognition.

The backyard cookout season is in full flame:

Who wants burgers?

How many dogs?

You want that watermelon medium-rare?

In general, women are more victims of the cookout than perpetrators. Which is not to say they are totally without blame.

They are, after all, directly responsible for an abuse of marshmallows that borders on the criminal, not to mention the peculiar things they often do with, and to, Jell-O.

Essentially, though, the cookout is a male operation.

Never mind that this is a guy who:

Would need a video to make French toast.

Prefers his frozen dinners frozen.

Thinks a spatula is a shovel for small jobs.

None of these things deter him in the slightest.

You put a puffy white hat and an apron that reads "You May Kiss the Chef" on the average guy, and he becomes a cross between Emeril Lagasse and Kramer.

Suddenly, roasting a hot dog becomes an art, and flipping a hamburger is done with such flourish that it suggests formal study.

But the man behind the grill is more than mere entertainer. He is also a teacher.

"See, here," he will say to whoever is unfortunate enough to have made eye contact through the thick smoke. "The key to making a great burger is to cook it on both sides."

Or: "Notice how I put these little slits in the hot dog."

Another thing that all backyard bons vivants share are personal recipes they truly believe turn the common condiment into an unforgettable epicurean experience.

The secret ingredient?

Beer.

Although the casual observer may think that all the liberal pouring of Bud Lite on beef does is make it cold, the guy wielding the small shovel knows different.

This is why everything he prepares gets at least one splash from the can in his hand.

(And you wonder why the kids get cranky toward the end of the cookout?)

Why the beer?

"It's the hops and barley," he explains. "When they intermingle with the hot coals, the steam enhances the meat's natural flavornoids. The French have been doing it for centuries.

"Where do you think they got beernaise sauce?"

* Jim Shea is a columnist at the Hartford Courant. To reach him, write to Jim Shea, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115.

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