The thrill of a grill

Summer is a time for fireworks, swimming and lighting things on fire. The safest way to do this is with a grill and not, say, a flamethrower (though the flamethrower would be considerably more fun, quicker and less stressful way to barbeque).

My grilling journey got off to a rough start. Beginning with a tiny charcoal grill roughly the size of a muskrat, my “Smokey Joe,” which sounds like a cigarette mascot from 1987, had all the heating capabilities an Easy Bake Oven and could warm about six blueberries on a grilling surface the rough circumference of a potato.

In order to most effectively light charcoal you’re supposed to arrange it into a pyramid, which makes sense as you apparently need to appease Agni, the Vedic god of fire in order to ignite it. You may or may not have to do the additional “Crazy Idiot Man Dance” and sacrifice a squirrel to a volcano, but this what you feel like doing after 20 minutes of charcoal-lighting futility.

The first time I used my grill (after unrolling it from its gum wrapper) and bathing each charcoal briquette in enough lighter fluid to render it a Molotov cocktail, I was approached by a curious 6-year-old neighbor girl wondering if she could play with my toy.

Little girl: “Is that, like, a REAL grill?” she asked far too judgingly for a 6-year-old.

Me (suspiciously): “Yes…,” I responded hesitantly, thinking this was either a trick question or perhaps an accusation of theft. A fair assumption, seeing as though someone could steal it by tucking it into their pants.

Little girl: “It’s so SMALL!” she giggled.

This took me by surprise. At first, I was insulted, but then considered she was six and had not yet developed the filter that we adults have in order not to offend people’s sensibilities. She was just saying whatever came to mind and I knew, as a grown-up, I couldn’t take it personally. I had to reply with tact.

Me: “YOU’RE small!” I replied tactfully, pointing my spatula at her and accidently spraying her with hamburger juice.

This simply wasn’t the way man was supposed to grill. The way I always imagined it, boys became men by returning from the hunt holding a buffalo or dragon they killed themselves and throwing it onto a massive flaming pit in front of village warriors, not by roasting a cocktail wiener with a toothpick over a Bic lighter in front of a 6-year-old wearing a tiara.

It occurred to me that if a 6-year-old girl was giggling at the size of my grill, what would grown women think? Clearly, I needed a bigger unit (GRILL!). Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long. Upon retirement, my parents migrated south and I was the beneficiary of “something we don’t want to haul.” This time it turned out to be my dad’s propane grill.

“Finally,” I thought as I rubbed the steel surface without first having to get down on my hands-and-knees. “My first man grill. Don’t cry, Kelly. Keep it together. You knew this day would come.”

I thought I had finally become a grill master. Gone was the baby grill of my youth and having to change its infant briquettes. In front of me was a grill that could conceivably blow up and cause GREAT BODILY HARM. I couldn’t have been happier. That is, until I visited my parents’ new house and saw my dad’s brand new stainless steel monstrosity that could devour my grill in one gulp while simultaneously picking Smokey Joes out of its teeth like they were sesame seeds. It looked more like some kind of Star Trek space coffin.

Should you want to, you could cook an entire cow. Being a guy, I kinda wanted to.

“Do you grill with that or use it to transport the elderly around town?” I asked.

“It’s just in case the University of Arkansas football team or the entire population of Chicago came over to visit we could feed them all,” I pictured my dad saying to my mom as justification as to why he purchased it.

With its chrome exterior, standing next to it for 10 minutes on a sunny day would give you third-degree burns. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he pushed a button and machine guns burst from the sides. I’m relatively certain Michael Bay is casting my dad’s grill in the next Transformer movie.

Needless to say, I once again have a severe case of grill envy.

Time to get a flamethrower.


Kelly Van De Walle can be reached at



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