Grill envy lights a fire under the old insecurities

May 18, 2000|By KEVIN COWHERD

THE OLD SAYING is that size doesn't matter, but it does and everyone knows it does.

Standing next to him on this hot Saturday afternoon, I felt painfully inadequate.

His grill was one of those big, gleaming gas-burners, 27 knobs, a cooking surface the size of Wyoming, enough glass to qualify as a sun room, side trays, utensil racks, extra storage space, you name it.

Mine was a puny little Weber.

The black kettle type.

Bells and whistles? Ha, that's a good one.

The only extra mine had was an ash-catcher.

Boy, that'll really impress people, huh?

Look, he's got an ash-catcher! Ooooh!

As I ripped open a bag of Kingsford Matchlight charcoal and dumped some in, I could feel my cheeks burning with shame. At this neighborhood cookout, every guy seemed to have better equipment than me.

Oh, you know how it is at these things.

Get a bunch of men together in goofy aprons, floppy chef's hats, waving barbecue mitts and tongs, and pretty soon every one of them is looking around, thinking: How do I measure up with the other guys?

Me, I'm no different. I've got my insecurities.

Sure, I whistled casually as I struck a match and lit the charcoal at the recommended three points, waiting for the briquettes to turn white before actual grilling commenced.

But inside, man, I was dying.

Here I'd be lucky to fit a half-dozen burgers and hot dogs on my wimpy grill at one time. Meanwhile, Mr. Gas Burner over there, spatula and long fork flashing, aluminum drip pans arrayed before him like the instruments in a symphony orchestra, looked to be charring a whole steer.

Over the next few hours, we grilled enough food to feed half the NFL, even including the players serving jail time.

At one point, I was firing up some pork ribs when Mr. Big Gas-Burner Himself walked by.

"That's some unit you got there, mister," I said. Maybe he heard the envy in my voice, maybe he didn't.

"Thanks," is all he said at first.

Then he stopped and his voice dropped to a whisper.

"Only sometimes it doesn't always ... work," he said. "If you catch my drift."

"Oh, that happens to every guy occasionally," I said. "Maybe you had a few too many beers."

"I guess," he said. "Anyway, sometimes I hit the ignite button, and hit it and hit it, and it just won't light."

"You should go talk to someone about that," I advised. "There's no need to suffer in silence anymore. They've made great strides in that area."

Then I told him about the more efficient propane tanks, thicker gas lines and cleaner-burning coils available these days. After a while, he seemed to brighten.

"Thanks, you made me feel better!" he said. "Stop over for some kielbasa."

Tell you the truth, I'm not much for kielbasa. But if a guy walks away feeling a little better about himself -- and about what Sears or Walmart or Barbecues Galore gave him -- well, that's all the thanks I need.

Still, with all the studs working this cookout, it was easy to feel insecure.

There was a guy bent over a Weber Genesis Gold grill, one of those monsters with 39,000 BTU-per-hour input, three stainless steel burners, not to mention porcelain side work surfaces and a large front wire condiment basket.

Another guy was slapping a London broil the size of your thigh on one of those high-end German platinum grills, the kind that cost more than my first house.

Look, I'm being honest here. There were guys with grill covers that cost more than my little Weber kettle. When the cookout was over, I took my aluminum drip pans and went home pale and shaken.

Who was I kidding? The only thing jumbo about me was my grill brush ($6.49, Ace hardware).

A grill brush!

Ooooh!

That'll really impress the guys.

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