I’m sitting here thinking about what I can throw on the grill for dinner. Cooking on a gas grill is so quick and easy…it’s the decision as to what to have that’s the obstacle. It reminded me of my experiences with grilling in the good old days. You see, I grew up with the master griller, Ed Beck. I knew no one more particular about his grilling, and no one who could produce finer charred beast.
So, back in the 50’s and 60’s, gas grills weren’t even a twinkle in Mr. Char Broil’s eye yet. We had charcoal grills, or none at all. And if you were Ed Beck, there was a lot of thought, preparation, and tending that went into grilling. You couldn’t just decide at 5:00 what you were going to toss onto the grill, and be eating by 5:30. The meat had to be washed and prepared, sitting at the ready on a large pan or platter, most likely lined with heavy duty tin foil. The barbecue sauce and dousing matter had to be mixed and put on the stove. Dad mixed his own barbecue sauce, adding worcestershire, Tabasco, dry mustard, molasses, and beer (among other things) to the bottled sauce (which back then was original flavor.) If he was cooking anything but a steak, he also doused the meat with a vinegar mixture (and/or beer) while it was cooking, before putting on the barbecue sauce.
The grill had to be carefully lined with heavy duty tin foil, and the charcoal arranged just so. Then there was the starter fluid. There was a method to the dousing of the charcoal, and the speed with which you struck the match…just long enough for the fluid to soak in, but not enough to evaporate. And the calculation as to how quickly you had to move to avoid singeing off your eyebrows, or arm hair. (Are you counting the carcinogens with me??) Now, I know there are many out there who are stackers of the charcoal, but Ed was not one of that camp. He believed in laying out the coals in a double layer, filling the grill edge to edge. He was going to need a BIG fire.
You see, Ed’s idea of portion size was not as big as your fist. No, Ed believed in as big as your head, or perhaps as big as your left thigh when it came to portion size. A two-pound steak was average for Dad. Per person. And he counted on everyone eating 2 or 3 pork steaks, 1 whole chicken, or a rack of ribs each. Dad was a big man, and planned big when it came to meals. Is it surprising I have issues?
Anyway…back to the ritual. So, while the coals were burning down to the perfect white all over, Dad was busy stirring the sauce, and having his first beer. Grilling was usually a 4 or 5 beer operation, as I recall. Hot Illinois summers, cold cans of Miller High Life, or, in the later years, frosty bottles of Heineken. And, on occasion, it was a martini kind of day. You just never knew.
Dad was in his element. He brought out the pan of meat, stacked neatly on the heavy duty tin foil. He used his barbecue tools (which he ALWAYS pronounced in an exaggerated accent, much like a popular commercial on tv at the time) to hoist the heavy hunks of beast onto the hot grill. He sat and drank as he doused the beast with the vinegar mixture. He had a little mop that looked just like a big cotton floor mop, but in miniature. He sopped up the vinegar mixture and doused the beast regularly for what seemed like an eternity. Now that I look back on it, the slow cooking time was likely a factor of the number of cocktails he could consume.
When the meat was mostly cooked, and the beers were nearly finished, it was time for the sauce. The same mop made a great slosher of sauce. He put on sauce, cooked it for a bit, turned it over, and put on more sauce. Like lather, rinse, repeat, he went through this routine several times, so that the sauce’s flavor was totally IN the beast. If infused had been a trendy cooking term back then, Ed would have coined the phrase. Once the beast was fully barbecued, he’d stack it on a big tray, covered with (you guessed it) heavy duty tin foil, and carry it into the house.
There was nothing finer than Dad’s barbecue. And hanging out with him for the whole ritual was even better than the beast. My brother and I would spend that time watching, joking around, and just having fun with Dad. He never really let us help too much…it was his baby. But just that time with him, inhaling the smoke from the grill, watching Dad down those beers, sweating in the Illinois sun, and laughing, was priceless.