Grilled at the grill store

May 06, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd

ONE OF THE few joys left to a man of my age is the purchase of a new barbecue grill.

As a man reaches his mid-40s, life becomes an endless series of bill-paying, prostate exams and run-ins with the smart-mouth Marilyn Manson disciple behind the register at 7-Eleven. So the prospect of a new grill becomes an exciting, shimmering glow in your mind, the same way a new Corvette was when you were 22.

The other thing was this: My old grill, a Weber kettle from the time of the Iran-contra hearings, was a rusted hulk.

It squatted on the back deck like an ugly black toad, listing heavily to one side due to a metal leg that had snapped when we used it for third base and someone (OK, me) slid into it during a wiffleball game.

You could cook on it, sort of, but you needed a jackhammer to cut through the grease and everything you cooked tasted like a Firestone radial.

So on a recent Saturday, I found myself wandering the main showroom of a barbecue grill superstore. (Yes, yes, they have such things now. You wait, there will be superstores for masking tape and shower curtains and tiny porcelain knick-knacks in a year or two.)

The place smelled of Lectric Shave and Skoal dip and great heaping gobs of testosterone. Men in flannel shirts and relaxed-fit jeans hovered over gleaming 30,000 Btu gas grills, lustfully eyeing the deluxe wood side-shelves, fiddling with the master burner knobs.

They spoke knowingly of total cooking surface and maximum heat distribution and porcelain wire cooking grids.

Oh, Lord, was I out of my element.

Look, I can talk about Carl Hiaasen novels and beer and certain kinds of Celtic music and those last-place, choking-dog Orioles.

But when a man nudges me and says: "Whoooeee! This here MasterFlame 2 has a 187-square-inch warming rack!" I don't have much to add to the conversation.

Anyway, after a couple of minutes, an energetic sales clerk zeroed in on me. He said his name was Bob. This alone was enough to make me instantly relax.

Bob is a good, solid, barbecuey name. I bet if you gathered 10 Bobs in a room and said: "OK, how many of you guys have worked an 8,000 Btu GrillMaster??" at least eight of them would raise their hands.

Bob said he had one important question before we got started.

"What're you gonna cook on this baby?" he asked in a loud voice. "Pit beef? Roast pig? Turkey? Venison? Rockfish?"

Suddenly, the entire room seemed to go silent. All the other customers seemed to pause in their conversations and look up, as if waiting for my answer.

"Well, um, hamburgers and hot dogs," I said at last. "And maybe chicken."

The other men shook their heads sadly and resumed talking. Bob looked at me with barely disguised contempt.

Apparently, if all you're grilling are hot dogs and hamburgers, you're basically a girlie-man who has no business in a barbecue superstore and would be better off buying a darling little hibachi.

Whereas if you're going to slap meat on the big boys, the gas behemoths like the Weber Platinum Series II (list price: $1,099.99) or the Weber Genesis 1000, with die-cast aluminum lid and professional stainless steel cabinet doors, not to mention 543 square inches of total cooking surface, you don't grill anything smaller than a moose.

Clearly, I was wasting Bob's time.

Nevertheless, with studied patience, he led me to the back of the store, to a ghetto area where the less-expensive grills were crowded up against each other.

"Any of these would be fine," he said, gesturing in the direction of a Sunbeam gas grill with a pitiful 301 square inches of total cooking surface.

Three hundred one square inches -- you couldn't even cook a good-sized antelope on that thing.

In Bob's eyes there was only disgust. Disgust and a glimmer of sadness.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I ended up buying another Weber kettle, your basic black, no-frills model.

No deluxe side-shelves, no angled burner ports, no 20-pound LP gas tank with OPD (Overfill Protection Device). Not even a hook to hang a long fork.

It set me back 69 bucks, plus tax. I use it only for cooking hamburgers and hot dogs.

And, of course, I use it only at night, when the neighbors can't see what a girlie-man I really am.

Pub Date: 5/06/99

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