Friday, March 19, 2010


Dr Awesome,

Over the weekend my son (11) and I went to a friends house to watch NFL playoff football. There were 4 other dad's and son's there. Not much of a better way to spend a bitterly cold Saturday in January than with "the boys" and football.

But an absolutely horrible man crime came up that I'm really having a tough time with. Our host said that he was barbecuing when he invited us; so I thought great! I would bring some of my grandmothers blue ribbon United Methodist slaw to compliment the pork. When we arrived just before kickoff of the first game I gave my dish to my buddies wife and proceeded to the basement; about half-time our host stood up and announced he was going up to "fire up the grill." What? You mean you're just now starting the meat? There's no way it will be ready before my son has to get up for school tomorrow! He comes back to the basement just as the 3rd quarter is starting and announces that the burgers are ready. As it turns out he was firing up the gas (which is another problem, does no one use charcoal anymore?) grill and grilling hamburgers. I guess I should have realized something was wrong when I phoned him on Friday and offered to sit up with him and the meat and he declined my offer, saying they were going to the movies. Where I'm from BBQ means smoking large cuts of pork shoulder, butt, ribs, and brisket over Hickory wood fired heat for hours and hours, usually over night. It has nothing to do with hamburger.

Obviously, my friend is not from the south, though he did move down here and marry one of our women. He's not that bad of a guy, he did introduce us to Brats. But I just don't know if I can let this go. Am I over reacting? Or can I use this as a teaching opportunity?



Sorry that I'm just now getting around to your manswer. Football season is clearly over, but we're into March Madness now, so these same issues you were having are likely popping up again. Even if you aren't doing a lot of grilling at the moment, football season is right around the corner, and its never too soon to begin preparing your grilling strategies. So while some might say that this manswer is late, I think the timing is just right. Manswers are a lot like grilling in that don't want to pull them off too early, before their smoky flavor has had time to set in, but you don't want to let them go for too long, lest they dry out. So let's open the lid of the grill and see if this manswer is edible.

The first thing I want to talk about is the geography of grilling. Various parts of the country around the US have their preferred grilling methods and sauces that they will defend to their deaths. In fact, one of the things lost in accounts of what happened at the Alamo is that Santa Ana was trying to steal Sam Houston's recipe for Texas BBQ. He overran the Alamo but never got the recipe, which is why the baby back ribs at the popular Tex-Mex establishment Chilli's are not as good as they could be. The US features several types of BBQ, each with its own merits. I personally prefer my BBQ Memphis style: pork-based and with a sweet sauce. But I can pretty much guarantee if you sit a plate of meat in front of me I wont turn it down. If you want to read up on this subject, I'd check out this article on Wikipedia. After reading that, I have a new goal in life: go on a tour of the world and eat every type of BBQ that exists. Food Network could chronicle my adventures as I travel the globe eating meat and dispensing sage wisdom. It would be a cross between Man Vs Wild and Man Vs Food, and would be the greatest piece of television that mankind has ever produced. The season finale would involve a barbeque battle royale involving me, Bobbie Flay, and that spiky hair dude that cooks for Applebee’s, which I would dominate. Anyway, Scott, you mentioned that you are from the South, and while their BBQ is among the best, I wouldn't put such limits on yourself.

Moving on, you asked about grilling methods. Let me list a few, in ascending order of manliness. First, any method that occurs inside your kitchen, from toaster oven to a griddle to a microwave. Pro: fast and easy and can be used to construct delicious grilled cheese sandwiches. Con: that's about all you can do inside, toast some sandwiches. Personally, I wish I had a Quizno's sandwich oven in my kitchen, because there's not a food out there that doesn't taste better toasted...sandwiches, pizza, fruit rollups, you name it, toasting enhances everything. Plus, I'd use it like Kramer did on Seinfeld; if I needed to dry some pants quickly, I'd just pop them on the conveyor and grab them 90 seconds later. I'd probably make a sandwich while waiting. Anyway, that's method one. Method two is outside, on a gas grill. Pros: also fast, easy and able to whip up delicious food with minimal time or effort. Con: gas grills have no character. They are sensible and easy, but boring. They are the Toyota Camry of the food preparation frills, just does the job and does it reasonably well. Plus it gets great meat per gallon. And of course, if you spray lighter fluid on the gas grill, you can get some huge flames, which is sort of like when the accelerator pedal sticks on a Camry. So gas grills can be fun and dangerous too. I think they should be a part of every man's grill repertoire, just for the quick no-frills meat experience. Tossing some burgers on a gas grill is not the height of manliness, no, but nowhere in scripture are we commanded to be maximum man at all times (although that would make a great 11th Commandment). A tasty cheeseburger is better than no meat at all, so gas that junk up.

A third method of grilling involves the smoker, whether you are using charcoal or the more expensive hickory chips. This method takes longer, but provides you with distinct delicious flavors. Charcoal would be your entry level grill, whereas if you can afford it, you should eventually graduate to something akin to a Big Green Egg where you can really get some unique tastes. Grills like that are not mobile, though, which moves us to the next subset of smokers, the tow-behinds. These you actually pull behind your truck, so that you can be a grillmaster anywhere that is accessible on four wheels. My father-in-law has one of these tow-behind smokers that he built himself, which is reasons 1-14 that I married into that family (reason 15 is when you start getting into whether I liked the daughter or not). Another man I know has a tow-behind smoker so big that he could probably smoke 2-3 entire bison if he wanted to, which is something I encourage him to try every time I see him. The gigantor smoker is definitely the way to go, if you've got the cash to pull it off. But smokers in general are pretty high up the chain when considering manly methods of grilling.

By far, though, the manliest way to grill is to dig a massive hole in your yard and roast whole animals. Through an agreement with the government of Germany I have access to all the jet fuel I could ever want, and that's what I use to get my fire going. I have a secret method of getting it well up over 1000 degrees C, which allows the kids of the neighborhood to roast hot dogs in two tenths of a second from a quarter mile away. That's when I'm in a hurry and need to cook something fast...if I have a few days, my preferred method is to get the fire going, toss whatever animal(s) in there that I want to cook, bury them on the fire using a backhoe, and let it roast for a week or two. No Dr Awesome weekend is complete without digging up some smoky sweet meat out of the ground. I tell my daughter all the time, that's the stuff that memories are made of. Plus, neighborhood bible studies really "come alive" when you're reading the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and then you toss your friends into a real fire pit.

Let me sum up by telling you how to handle this friend of yours. The crime that he committed is less than 6 on the dudefrontation scale, therefore no beat down is required. I recommend that instead you introduce him to something better. Inspire him, not with "how can you settle for something so much less" but instead "why not strive for something so much more?" Show him that while burgers on the gas grill are good, pulled pork fresh from the smoker is so much better. Soon your friend will thank you for rescuing him from his mediocrity, and by next year's NFL playoffs you'll be able to fellowship together in the presence of smoky meat of glory. Be sure to hoist some ribs in my honor.

Dr Awesome


hthomson March 20, 2010 at 8:07 PM  

Having lived in both the north and the south, I think this is a situation in which the word "a" makes all the difference. If you are having "a" BBQ, that means you are grilling hot dogs, hamburgers, or chicken. If you are having BBQ, that means you are having smoked ribs, brisket, or chicken (or pulled pork in the southeast) that needs a lot of time to cook. If the writer had been expecting a BBQ, instead of BBQ, he wouldn't have been disappointed.

Kevin (MAYBE Steph) March 21, 2010 at 4:32 PM  

hthomson took the words right out of my mouth.

Also, for a slightly more enjoyable way to learn about the various BBQ styles of different regions...check this out.

Kevin (X)

Dr Awesome March 22, 2010 at 1:59 PM  

hthomson, that's pretty insightful, the difference between "bbq" and "a bbq." You just summarized my whole manswer better than I did, which means you get to be honorary Dr Awesome for a day. That's great, because I have some chores at home that you could really help with.

Kevin, I'll check that video when I get home, youtube is blocked in my current location (could be at my desk, could be deep inside internet-censored China).

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