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Love, Barbeque, and Food Safety
by Kip Hanson


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Kip lives in sunny Phoenix, where his wife makes him watch Poltergeist while insisting clowns are not scary. You can find his work scattered about the Internet, at Foundling Review, Inkspill, Monkey Bicycle, Absinthe Revival, and a few other places, proving that a blind squirrel does occasionally find a nut. When not telling lies, he makes a few bucks cobbling together boring manufacturing articles for technical magazines.

           Three weeks ago, I bought a new barbeque grill. It’s one of those big stainless steel jobs, with three burners, a flush-mount auxiliary burner, and 10,000 BTU. That was right before I burned off my facial hair. I’m not talking about a flash of heat and a quick curl of the eyelashes here. I leaned down to push the starter…click, click, click, and WHOOSH! It was like Ground Zero at the Trinity nuclear test site. My neighbor Jim laughed so hard he fell off the picnic table. What a jerk. 

I’ve been learning to grill since I got married. I’d be happy eating casseroles and TV dinners, but Marie is in love with grilled meat.  Ribs, chicken, brisket—you name it. Once she even made me grill the Thanksgiving turkey. That was the year we had Chinese takeout, after I got her to agree the bird was beyond salvage.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind cooking for her. But I’d rather do it indoors, where it’s safe. Grilling is dangerous. Charcoal briquettes are chock full of toxic chemicals. Those long-handled cooking implements? You could put an eye out with the fork Marie bought for my birthday last year. And everyone knows that grilled meat causes cancer. I tell her these things and she rolls her eyes, then hands me a platter of raw cow meat.

“Get outside. I’m hungry.”

The hard part is knowing when the meat’s done. Marie says the redder the better. Ever heard of Salmonella? E. coli? When I grill a twenty-dollar sirloin, it ends up so full of holes it looks like a shooting victim.

“What’d you do to the meat?”

“I was checking it,” I said. “You know. With the thermometer?”

“Jim doesn’t use a thermometer.”

When we go to the neighbor’s house for dinner, Marie claps her hands together and gets cow-eyed over his presentations, like he’s Bobby Flay. Jim even has his own smoker. He cooks pork butt for two days.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, she announced we’re having company. “Gina and Jim are coming over tonight. You’re making t-bones and grilled vegetables.”

“That’s swell,” I said. “I can’t wait.”

I started the grill an hour before Jim arrived. Marie said I should wait for him, but seeing as I burned my face off the last time he was here, I didn’t want to risk it.

I’ve tried everything short of gasoline to light these bastards. And sometimes the tank runs empty halfway through and the meal is ruined and we have to order pizza. And Jim? He leans over, flicks his lighter, and twenty minutes later he’s cooked a perfect meal. It’s no big deal to him. Sometimes I think my wife married the wrong man.

            I was still scraping last night’s crud off the grate when they arrived. Jim said I should get one of those pumice stones for that. When I put the meat on with the rhino-killing fork Marie gave me, Jim said I should use tongs instead. I suggested to Jim that he might be more comfortable inside where it was cool. He slapped me on the back and said what are friends for? Then he said the flame was too hot and my temperature zones were all wrong. I said maybe you should just take over, Jimbo?

            Jim went inside for another beer. He said he’d heard a new joke at work and wanted to lay it on the girls. I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that. After all, it’s only a barbeque. I knew he’d rat me out to Marie—I’d hear about my rude behavior later. The minute the screen door slammed, the grill sputtered and went out. The tank was empty. Luckily, I’d planned ahead and picked up a spare. I hurried to the garage, grabbed the new tank, and had it swapped out in a jiffy.  Marie would have been proud.

            I had a few minutes, so I went inside to check on Jim—to see how he was entertaining the girls. And I wanted a beer. Maybe I’d apologize, to clear the air. I walked in during the middle of Jim’s joke. Something about a priest and a lawyer at the Pearly Gates. Marie roared at the punch-line, but I didn’t get it. Jim turned to me, grinning ear to ear. “Pretty good, eh Chuck…” and that’s when his eyes popped wide. He looked like he’d seen Santa Claus fly through the back yard.

            But it wasn’t old Saint Nick. The flames from the barbeque reflected off Jim’s chubby cheeks. A tornado of smoky grill failure gyred skyward. Crap, how did that happen so fast? I sprinted out the back door. Jim yammered in my ear about closing the dampers, but it was too late. The T-bones were like burnt hockey pucks. While Marie watched, I hosed the whole mess down.

            We piled into Jim’s BMW and headed to Applebee’s. Marie and I sat in the back seat. Halfway there, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Since you can’t seem to grill a damned T-bone, you’re buying, Honey.” She smiled as she said it. Everyone ordered New York Strips, medium-rare. I ordered an Oriental Chicken Salad. And a Long Island Iced Tea. Five minutes later, I ordered one more.


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