Cooking Up a Barbeque Debate

‘Tis the season to fire up the grill and burn the steaks to a crisp.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, except when you’re over your head at the barbeque and the so-called culinary experts add their bit.

I have friends like that. I invite them over for a cookout and they stand by my grill and tell me how to grill a burger and steak. Even a hot dog gets their preferential treatment.

Slice it down the middle why don’t you, and stick some cheese into the center. No dog is worth its skin without a little dressing.

My dilemma is not the cooking quarterbacks that invade my territory. It’s my grill. It came to me as a gift from my family when I first purchased my camp 40 years ago this summer.

And it refuses to die.

The naysayers tell me it’s time to bite the bullet and invest in a new one, that all good commodities must come to an end after an eternity.

I don’t want a new grill. They don’t build grills like this, not the cast iron sort that can withstand any inferno. The sentimental value alone warrants its survival.

It has cooked for priests, doctors, lawyers, and three generations of family. It has greeted the arrival of church outings, annual YMCA racquetball gatherings, hockey leagues, six graduation parties, a couple engagements, and goodness knows how many casual mom and pop dinners.

Not once has it faltered, except when the gas tank hit empty. Even a grill must be fed regularly to survive. My Falcon Mark IV is no exception.

The skeptics may have a point, however. Where do you get the parts?

Alas! Like everything else, I found the company online and with the click of a mouse, I’m able to purchase grates for as much money as it took to buy this grill back in 1970. I have the impression that the Mark IV takes after Mark Anthony.

Tough. Durable. Legendary. In his day, it was a sacrifice when they roasted a lamb outdoors. Today, they call it a cookout.

My brother-in-law has one. He, too, is a traditionalist and wouldn’t be caught cooking without the Falcon. We’re two birds of the same feather.

The current generation requires five times as much equipment for a cookout as our ancestors did to conquer the wilderness. If you’ve ever watched a neophyte at the grill, you’ll understand why.

They’ll bring out a kit with forks, spoons, knives, spatulas, and thongs ad infinitum.

And patience doesn’t seem to be a virtue. They’ll pop on some burgers, then jump into a game of basketball or horseshoes, lose themselves in the action, then return to the grill only to find one side charred to a crisp. Forget the dirty hands.

“How much longer?” comes a cry from the kitchen.

“Any time now,” replies the cook.

Good thing there’s a dog nearby and plenty more burgers on standby. Who’s counting?

It does get dicey, however, when steaks and chicken are competing with burgers and dogs in an attempt to satisfy every appetite. Some request cheese. Others want their rolls toasted. Make one rare, another well done.

Orchestrating this movement can be as challenging as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Every July, they put together a cooking crew for the Lowell Folk Festival. The Armenians have a booth, along with other ethnic groups, and we make our mark with the losh kebabs. Truth be told, the line is often 40 deep.

Here’s my beef. No matter how many volunteers you have manning the grill, it’s never enough. Guys feel macho standing over the BBQ with a spatula in their hands. I’m one of them and I can’t seem to get a handle in edgewise.

Just as I’m getting warmed up to the idea, along comes some young cowpoke ready to take over, leaving me idle. I could sell pastry with the ladies or wash dishes back at the center. Neither sounds too appealing.

I’d rather be in the firing line, reeking with charcoal.

I’ll tell you how much I’m missed. One day last year, there were so many cooks, the menu was being spoiled. I took off and went for a long walk, stopped on the way back for a beer, and returned to the barbeque area two hours later, ready to offer relief.

The organizer approached me with some words of caution, “Looks like you’ve been cooking too long. How about taking a break?”

Good idea. I sat down and enjoyed a Greek concert—with someone else’s burnt offering in hand.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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