C. Stroup – It's the Pits

“With all this nice weather upon us it’s time to get out there and grill,” I thought to myself.  So I fetched a couple of steaks from the freezer and the next day tenderized them to death.  I have a special marinade which includes beer.  What doesn’t go in the marinade or in the chef is used to pour on the meat and flames while cooking.

This was one of Dad’s culinary secrets although he seldom drank a brew himself.  Oh, once in a while on a really hot summer’s day he’d pour a cold one and intentionally create a huge head of foam on the top.  Then he’d shake a bunch of salt on top of that.  Ick!  But Dad always used beer to tenderize steaks, ribs and pork and always cooked over an open charcoal pit, even after the advent of gas grills.

I followed in his footsteps and for years used Dad’s method.  To cook outdoors in any other manner was unthinkable.  But, alas, when I saw my big brother give in to a gas gizmo and turn out some splendid meat…I followed suit.  I kept the old Weber, though, just in case I wanted something to really taste like it was barbecued.  I bought some of the artificial briquettes for the gas pit and those seemed to help add that outdoorsy flavor.  So gradually I grew accustomed to the gas grill.

Several times over the course of 12 years, some of its pieces parts had to be replaced.  But it finally got so tired it quit lighting on one side.  And the igniter switch hadn’t worked for years.  I’d turn on the tank and throw a match from afar.  My husband would have a fit.  “With as much hairspray as you use, one of these days you’re going to set yourself on fire.”  He had tried to correct this problem (the faulty lighter, not my hairspray overkill) on more than one occasion but with no success.  And since I pinch a penny until it melts, I kept procrastinating on the purchase of a new grill.

It wasn’t until recently that I spied a cool charbroil unit that appealed to my palate.  The price was certainly right and it even had a side burner on which to cook or keep food warm.  Quite a step up from what I’d been using.  So after measuring my patio space and vacillating over spending the money on each of 3 trips to the store, I concluded it was finally time to make the purchase.  I sent Ken in my stead to pick it up.

As you can imagine the size of the box was enormous.  And the “easy to assemble” pamphlet was as thick as a steak.  It said right there, in black and white, “average assembly time 35 to 45 minutes.”  Obviously, the manufacturer never put one together.  It took half that long just to get the box open…not to mention the time spent tugging on the seals of all those little plastic bags with a cajillion screws, nuts and bolts inside.

I helped though!  “Here, Honey.  It says to attach this arm to that thing and put this pin in that hole.  Do you want me to hand you any tools?  I know what a screwdriver looks like.  How long ya figure it will take you?  How come that side looks taller than the other one?  Where does this rack fit into the picture?”  And on and on and on until…

“Cindy!  It’s okay.  I have everything I need right here in front of me, including the directions.  Wait until I’m finished and both sides will be even, I promise.  Ya know, this would probably go a lot faster if you, I mean, don’t you need to be doing something in the house?”

Two days later Ken had, true to his word, put the whole thing together and both sides were even!  (That really had me worried.)  And there were only about 5 screws and one silly looking part that he didn’t use.  I’m not picking, well, yeah, a little bit, but usually there are enough unused pieces of hardware leftover to erect another unit, no matter what he’s putting together.

I read the instructions from cover to cover before firing it up.  Much to my dismay, they said in no way shape or form could you use any kind of briquettes.  This was quite a disappointment and then it began to dawn on me that I probably couldn’t pour beer on them either.

But with tenacity I finally conquered the pit and began grilling.  I even bought some of that sprinkle on smoky-seasoning to enhance the flavor.  Alas, my meat still doesn’t taste like Dad’s or my brother’s but at least I learned how to not burn it…everything comes out quite rare.  On that I can steak my pitiful culinary prowess!


Originally published in the April 2013 issue of The Cross Timbers Gazette.


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