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Women Are From Venus, Men Love to Cook Out
by Mad Dog


There’s something about the summer months that makes a man’s fancy turn to searing flesh, especially on Sunday. God rests, men barbecue.
     Summer is upon us. You know summer, that’s the time of the year when our thoughts turn to lying on the beach, getting a tan, taking long walks in the late evening sun, and pulling out the grill and charring anything that will sit still long enough to be marinated, including beef, chicken, Uncle Al, the dog, and whoever it is at the radio station who seems to think we want to hear that stupid sunscreen song every hour. As if anyone with more than three brain cells even wanted to hear it a second time.

     No matter what you call it—cooking out, barbecuing, or grilling—people are deadly serious about it. Well, men are anyway, and the last time I checked there were still one or two self-help books that consider men to be people. It could be the longer light of the day, or it could be the angle of the sun, but there’s something about the summer months that makes a man’s fancy turn to searing flesh, especially on Sunday. God rests, men barbecue.

     It’s unclear exactly why this affects men more than women. It could be a side effect of testosterone, the hormone that causes men to develop secondary sex characteristics like facial hair, a deeper voice, the urge to arm wrestle guys who outweigh them by 200 lbs., and an inability to ask for directions even after they’ve driven through four states looking for the convenience store that’s right down the block from the house.



Experts say Americans barbecued 2.7 billion times last year. Of course they also said they knew where the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was.
    It could also be the result of atavistic behavior imprinted on strands of DNA that recalls man’s traditional role in the cave as the hunter, grilling mastodon ribs over an open fire while the women gather berries and leaves (knowing they’ll need something to eat since dinner will be at least 2 hours later than planned), and the children run around whining, "But we hate mastodon ribs. Can’t we have macaroni and cheese?"

     So you see, not a lot has changed over the past 2 million years. Except, of course, that back then a guy like Bill Gates would have gotten his butt kicked all over the cave and now he ends up owning all the caves.

     In theory, grilling is a simple task. All you need is fuel, something to light it, a way to hold the food over the fire, and a KFC nearby so when dinner burns to a crisp everyone can still get their nourishment. But where Primitive Man used open fires, and Recent Man used simple metal grills or hibachis, Modern Man needs a $4,000 gas grill with six infrared burners, a rotisserie, a side-mounted range-top burner, a propane powered microwave, and a cordless telephone with the fire department’s phone number preprogrammed in memory.

     You’d better quit laughing, one of these might be in your future. Experts say Americans barbecued 2.7 billion times last year. Of course they also said they knew where the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was. When something is this popular, people are always going to want the latest, greatest, and best. Remember a few years ago when plain old charcoal briquettes weren’t good enough? First they made them so they’d light without starter fluid, which is no fun since that way the flames don’t singe the bottom of the roof overhang. Then they started flavoring them. The next thing you know there will be charcoal briquettes in an array of fabulous designer colors.



These mortgageable grills come in stainless steel, have designer paint jobs, feature side and bottom shelves, and have more features than the average kitchen range. And yes, they still do basically the same thing a pile of sticks will do.
    The biggest trend, though, was wood smoking. In a fit of mass hysteria not seen since people started mistaking Beanie Babies for a retirement fund, pyromaniacal adults started throwing wood chips on their fires to give dinner that special, smoky, burning-down-the-house taste. Hickory, mesquite, and applewood came and went. Backyards became hazier than Mexico City, which is saying a lot since breathing the air there for a day is supposedly equivalent to smoking three packs of unfiltered cigarettes.

       Once we went through all the flammable hardwoods indigenous to North America short of salt-treated lumber and telephone poles, there was nowhere to go in the world of barbecues than to make the equipment bigger. This is what’s known as "a man thing." Where a few years ago the average grill cost between $100 and $300, now the price has jumped as high as $4,000. These mortgageable grills come in stainless steel, have designer paint jobs, feature side and bottom shelves, and have more features than the average kitchen range. And yes, they still do basically the same thing a pile of sticks will do.

     The question is: Does a $4,000 deluxe grill cook food any better than the $10 Hibachi you get at the drug store or the $30 kettle grill that’s half-rusted on the back porch? I have no doubt your S’mores will be s’more melted, your toasted marshmallows crispier on the outside and gooier on the inside, and your hot dogs even more blistered and burned beyond recognition. But no matter what you cook the food on, some things will always stay the same. For one, you’ll still be able to spot the man of the house. He’ll be the one wearing the apron that says: "My grill can kick your grill’s pork butt."  

1999 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read them while waiting for the coals to heat up.

 

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