Our recipe for disaster

I don’t often get overly agitated about the things I read in the newspaper’s food section.

Although I was once the most exacting of food editors – until I was permanently sidelined during an unfortunate incident involving catfish chili – I tend to take a live-and-let-live attitude when it comes to the culinary suggestions offered up in The Reporter’s food pages these days.

And then, two weeks ago, a meal suggestion on the front page of the newspaper’s food section sent me staggering back in abject horror. Some geniuses – who were smart enough to remain nameless – had printed a fine and frolicsome recipe for “Shish kebabs the lazy way.”

Great.

What in the wide world of skewered foodstuffs were they thinking? Shish kebabs are, by their very nature, among the laziest of dishes one can prepare without losing consciousness. You take whatever old vegetables and reduced-for-quick-sale meat you might have at hand, cram them onto a skewer and leave them in close proximity to some heat source until they appear cooked.

This is, like, easy. If you’re barbecuing, you can manage this even after consuming the obligatory seven beers required by the California Barbecue Code. If you get any more laid-back, you’ll burn your face while snoozing on the grill.

So, of course, our food consultants suggest taking one lethargic step backward and simply eliminating those complicated and difficult-to-operate skewers.

“Just toss the fixings loose on the grill!” they recommend.

Yeah, that’s going to work just swell.

Now, instead of simply picking up your convenient skewer of incinerated leftovers, you have to fight with a half-dozen brew-fueled barbecue guests as they try to grab at bits of meat and vegetables rolling merrily back and forth across a red hot grill.

I should point out that this only applies to the meat and vegetables that remain within reach, since the smaller pieces are likely to have slipped through the grill and into the glowing coals.

The latter problem, our newsprint gourmets report, can be solved simply by putting your non-kebabs on a lightly oiled grilling grid or aluminum foil.

Wonderful. Now your “lazy” meal requires you to find or fabricate a grill for your grill before you can begin grilling.

Equally distressing is the fact that our food experts have clearly forgotten the best part of shish kebabing – skewers are fun.

You can use them to pop party balloons or make dramatic gestures while recounting your days in the Seventh Cavalry. Afterwards, your kids will delight in staging sword fights with the amusing, pointed instruments. Let’s face it, used barbecue skewers are one of the few remaining childhood joys of summer since lawn darts and bottle rockets were banned by a bunch of humorless Washington bureaucrats several years ago.

Shish kebabs without skewers? Not on my watch, amigos…

Originally published September 10, 2006

Cooking up some chaos …

June has arrived and it’s time we got serious about barbecuing again here in S’lano County, where men are men and women are remarkably adept with the family chainsaw.

Unfortunately, all too many of our once-proud, hands-on, take-no-prisoners charcoal chefs have, over the years, become entirely too sissified for their own good.

Stop by any department store, hardware outlet or home improvement center and you’ll see dozens of sophisticated barbecue grills selling for $400 to $600 – and plenty of fancy-pants wannabe grillmasters buying them up.

These high-tech barbecue centers have electronic ignition, pneumatic tires, multiple burners and options like sinks and double-walled stainless steel hoods.

Hell, you might as well barbecue in your Lexus.

Where’s the challenge? Where’s the adventure? Where’s the fire department?

Sad as it seems, today’s faux barbecuers seem to have considerably more money and considerably less dedication than our backyard grillers of old (you know, like way back in the ’80s…).

Whatever happened to the time-honored practice of yanking the grill out of your kitchen stove, putting it on a couple of bricks over a pile of moldy charcoal and then dousing the whole thing with a quart or two of flammable liquid?

(Historical hazardous materials note: Charcoal lighter was best, although kerosene was a workable alternative. Transmission fluid was frowned upon because the meal would wind up tasting like a refinery explosion. Gasoline was to be avoided, too, because the chef would wind up looking like a refinery explosion. Really. I wouldn’t kid you on this.)

Yeah, that was barbecuin’ at its finest – and cheapest.

Once the flames had died down to below two feet or so, you could throw just about any reduced-for-quick-sale supermarket meat on the grill and you’d have a feast within minutes. For the gourmet touch, you could periodically spill Budweiser on the grill. This both added flavor to the meat and helped control the flames that were leaping skyward.

Plus, the beer could be used to temporarily ameliorate the pain of second-degree burns…Brings back some great memories, doesn’t it?

You can almost smell the hot links igniting and hear your nitwit brother-in-law Ralph’s boombox playing “Welcome to the Jungle” in harmony with the approaching fire sirens.

It’s not too late to do it again, amigos.

Drag the grill out of your kitchen stove, find some flammable materials and celebrate the America we used to know every summer.

And remember, no la-di-da gourmet marinades. The best barbecue sauce is made by enthusiastically mixing two cups of leftover catsup with a half cup of old Worcestershire sauce, a half cup of cheap red wine, two tablespoons of alleged garlic powder, a tablespoon of coarse ground pepper and two tablespoons of stale sugar.

Mighty good eatin’ anytime…