By Adam Smith
I recently wrote a column extolling the virtues of the July Fourth tradition of grilling.
In the column, I mentioned that I was really partial to charcoal, but had come to appreciate the overall convenience of propane. The following tale of woe encompasses why I still prefer charcoal.
Venture with me, if you will, all the way back to July 7, 2012. In other words, Saturday.
The wife and I decided to host a post-Fourth Suarez at our humble villa, and subsequently bought the appropriate fixin’s — hamburger meat, buns, chips, beans, potato salad, etc.
I’ve always been partial to my own hamburgers and believe there are few restaurants that could craft one as lovingly as I do. I use a little Dale’s, some onion flakes, salt, pepper and sometimes some red pepper flakes for a kick.
I lovingly patted out the meat and set the tray back in the refrigerator until such time they would be ready to meet the final flame. About an hour later, I started up the propane grill in preparation for the big cook.
I prefer to cook on very low heat and cook longer, so, I had the burners on the grill turned to their lowest setting. After five or 10 minutes, I brought the burgers out and arranged them on the grill.
About five or 10 minutes after that, I was afraid I was on the verge of not only burning down my house, but also every house within a half-mile radius.
For some inexplicable reason, the burgers created a grease fire of Biblical proportions that had an unquenchable thirst. At first, I thought it was only a small flame-up and believed closing the lid would starve the flame. Wrong.
My second move was to turn off the gas burners completely. I (incorrectly) assumed that cutting off the fire in the grill would extinguish the fire. Wrong again.
After I cut the burners off, the fire only roared bigger. Flames shot through virtually any opening uncovered by metal. The flames emerging from the sides and the back came only inches from licking the gutters and vinyl covering of the eaves.
My concern at that point was that the flame would eventually spread to the gas tank area, which would then cause the tank to explode. Considering our patio is surrounded by dead grass (Thanks, Mother Nature!), I was also concerned about the real possibility of a grass fire. I reached down below the flame and shut off the gas valve, just in case.
While all the madness raged outside, my wife was completely oblivious. Not wanting her to know the severity of the situation I opened the back door and said, “Got a little grease fire out here.”
As she looked through the kitchen window, she gasped. “Oh my God! Do I need to call the fire department?”
I’m sure my answer of, “I don’t know!” wasn’t particularly reassuring.
“Have you tried using the hose?” she asked.
“It’s a grease fire,” I said. “I don’t think water’s going to work on this.”
I returned to the patio to further assess the situation. Through the flame, I could see the hamburgers I worked so lovingly to prepare transform into blackened pellets on the grill. The enticing smell of cooked beef had been replaced by the smell of melting plastic and burned paint.
I knew I had to get the fire out in a hurry because it continued to rage, despite my previous efforts.
I once again opened the back door.
“I need to put some baking soda on this,” I told the wife. “Wait, is it baking soda or baking powder?”
“I don’t know!” she said.
“Look it up on your phone!” I snapped back. “It’s an emergency situation!”
A minute or two later, she emerged with a box of baking soda. I commenced to empty the contents into any hole that had flame shooting out of it. After emptying the box, the wildfire was about 50 percent contained.
“Bring me some more,” I told her.
“You mean you used the whole box?” she asked.
“What choice did I have?” I asked rhetorically.
A minute later she emerged with the box of baking soda we normally keep in the refrigerator to keep it smelling fresh and clean. By that time, however, the fire was nearly out and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The wife brought out a coffin, I mean plate, so I could have a receptacle to transfer the sad remains of our dinner from the gates of Hades to our kitchen. After the char-burgers cooled on the counter for about an hour, I — feeling defeated — dumped them into the garbage can.
In the meantime, Lensey went back to the store and procured more meat. I was not going down without a fight.
I fetched my old faithful charcoal grill from the garage and immediately fired it up. A short time later I was using the spatula to collect some fine-looking hamburgers that were cooked to perfection.
On my way back into the house, I spit on the gas grill.
Charcoal 1, Propane 0.