Winter really takes a grilling

The Happy Eater

March 06, 1996|By Rob Kasper

SNOW. SNOW. Snow. Cold. Cold. Cold.

We're sick of this weather. Sick. Sick. Sick.

For weeks we have tried to cope with winter by holing up in the kitchen. By making pots of soup. By baking loaves of bread. By drinking bottles of red wine, lots of red wine.

The time has come to take more aggressive action. The time has come to light some fires. The time has come to try backyard warming.

This is my plan. Every man, woman and child in Maryland should grab every barbecue grill, hibachi, or smoker they can get their hands on and carry them out to their back yards. We should fire RTC up our grills. When the flames have subsided, we should cook supper.

We should do this tonight, tomorrow night and Friday. By then a great, smoky cloud of hot air will rise up over our homes and ward off the invading mass of cold air that is supposed to make it snow on Saturday. The weekend will be saved. And we'll have a couple of good meals to boot.

I recognize that the backyard warming raises a few questions. Among those questions might be "What are we gonna cook?" and "What do the nation's leading meteorological authorities think of the concept?"

To answer the second question, I called up the meteorology department at Penn State University, in State College, Pa. About one out of every four meteorologists in the country comes from Penn State. Its graduates are known as the "meteorological Mafia," and the school is located near the home of another winter weather authority, Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog.

I spoke with Paul G. Knight, who teaches at Penn. He seemed skeptical that backyard warming would work. I believe "hare-brained idea" were his exact words.

Knight seemed to think that the concept of backyard warming collided with certain principles of science. Among them was the fact that hot air rises. The warm air would quickly move away from the grill, he said. This meant, Knight said, that even if I was able to make the air inside my covered barbecue grill reach a temperature of 400 degrees, the minute I took the lid off the grill, this bubble of hot air would be swallowed up by the surrounding cold air.

He also said something about the atmosphere's awesome ability "to dissipate" heat. As Knight explained the picture, any heat coming from a backyard grill on a winter day would last about as long as a salted peanut at happy hour.

How many grills would you need, he asked me, to have even the slightest warming effect on an Alberta Clipper cold front? A hundred thousand grills? Two hundred thousand grills? Each grill, he estimated, might put out a measly 3 cubic feet of hot air.

I told him I would crunch the numbers and get back to him. I never did call him back.

This guy might know meteorology, but I was suspicious of his objectivity. I became leery when he told me he had recently turned down a request from his family to cook supper on the grill. It was too cold, he said. So instead of some grilled delicacy cooked by Dad, the Knight household ended up eating beans and salsa prepared by Mom.

This made me think that rather than viewing my backyard warming concept from the perspective of a trained scientist, Knight was looking at this brilliant idea from the viewpoint of a guy trying to get out of cooking supper.

Despite the skepticism voiced by a certain scientist, I am sticking with the idea of backyard warming.

As for what to cook, the answer is something that gets done in a hurry. It is, after all, going to be cold in the backyard. At least until that great smoky cloud created by backyard warming pushes back the cold front.

I like to take a steak, rub it with olive oil, kosher salt and a healthy dose of cracked, black pepper, then toss it on a very hot fire for a few minutes. I like the meat juicy in the middle, which means the meat can cook anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes per side, depending on how much heat is being "dissipated in the atmosphere."

The same olive oil, salt and pepper treatment works well with grilled tuna steaks.

I am considering trying it out on other meats as well. According to predictions of Punxsutawney Phil, winter is going to hang around for two more weeks. If this backyard warming tactic doesn't work, I am considering grilling a certain groundhog.

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