My Island friend Mark Labrozzi shared a Facebook pic with me of his new barbecue grill, with comments to the effect that a new grill was the best sign of summer.
The same day, my friend Gino Pomilia in Sacramento, California, emailed me a pic of his big new grill, with a comment that read, “Screw daffodils, this is the best sign of spring! As a matter of fact, I say, grill those yellow suckers!” A few days later, my pal Salvatore Scognimello in Sayville sent me a Facebook share showing—spoiler alert—a pic of his huge new barbecue grill, complete with flip-up side panels, a cup holder and a built-in meat thermometer.
I’ve never heard men talk about a new woman with more passion than they declare for a new grill. At first I wondered if the new grill thrill was an Italian-American experience I was unfamiliar with, but upon reflection, I think it’s just an all-American experience.
I’m not sure why, but men love fire. They won’t cook in a hot kitchen, but they will stand over a searing grill for hours, even wearing a parka if it rains, to brown a bratwurst. What is it? Is it the smell of the hickory or mesquite smoke? Is it the way the smoke burns their eyes? Is it that at some point they always get a burn bad enough to complain about, but never bad enough to need a bandage? Real men show off barbecue burn scars like war wounds. “I got this four years ago. I was trying to balance a plate of ribs when the juice ran off the edge, hit the grill, this huge flare shot up, burned all the hair off my arm, too.”
I think men love their grills because it’s one of the few relationships in their lives they can completely control. They can get any make or style they want. They can tell it what it’s going to do, whether it wants to or not. They can ignore it, even let it rust, and it still can’t talk back, complain, demand anything or threaten to leave and take the briquettes with it.
Slowly, I begin to understand why a man can love a grill. A man standing alone, armed only with his wooden-handled spatula, can share any secret with his barbecue and know it will take that secret to the scrap pile. His grill will never tell him to slow down on the beer. He never has to hide having a cigarette. And if it’s just the two of them alone, he can step away, use the nearest tree, and return without any commentary from any venue.
In what other relationship can he throw his mistakes in the bushes or feed them to the dog? And when has a grill ever complained about the size or condition of anything? A grill gives a man endless opportunities to show how clever he is. A salmon steak steamed in tin foil with butter and white wine. A tin foil boat of veggies steamed in his personal blend of sauces and spices. Grilled chicken fingers and home fries for the kids. No matter what a man grills, he makes himself and other people happy. Sure, a few hand towels—that were part of a matching set taken from the bathroom when there was no reason to take them since the designated barbecues towels were cleaned, stacked, and waiting on the picnic table behind you, you fool—will become burnt sacrifices now and then, but no relationship is perfect.