Off the Press

March 20, 2012

By David Hayes

Grilling season comes sooner every year

David Hayes Press reporterI was thinking, with the universally acknowledged unofficial start to the barbecue season — Memorial Day weekend — still two months away, now would be the perfect time to air my grievances regarding the uniquely American pastime.

Like Valentine’s Day, I can’t seem to go along with just getting along when it comes to artificial contrivances. Barbecue season seems to be one of those occasions.

For starters, Old Man Winter hasn’t even released his cold grip on the frigid weather around here and my wife is already planning her first pug meetup group’s themed get-together — a Southern barbecue.

I suppose a true grill master would tell me he barbecues year ’round, rain or shine, snow or hail, fish or pork, the charcoal stays fired up. Well, I’m also a fair-weather golfer, so my grilling tools, like my golf clubs, get put up for the winter, to be dusted off come late spring.

However, just like the inability to resist the urge to exploit any holiday, my stroll through Target the other day led me through an already fully stocked barbecuing section with the latest and greatest gadgets. This made me realize I did need a new grill scraper and wonder if I need a foot-wide flipper in case I choose to grill fish.

But what has me worried about the impending party for pugs (and their owners) is the star of the show, the brisket. As any good grill captain knows, a hunk of meat as big as brisket must be cooked low and slow.

I’m a veteran of many home barbecues, but mostly steaks and burgers, which are cooked hot and fast.

Not so with brisket. I’ll have to be out in the backyard at the crack of dawn, soakin’ hickory wood chips and throwing them on top of separated stacks of coal to create an impromptu smoker (we just don’t have room on our back porch for both a smoker and a griller).

With the party still four months away, I just know, short of breaking news in Issaquah, I’ll be conducting a trial run on the brisket on Memorial Day itself so come time for the real thing, it’ll be perfect for paying guests (my wife doesn’t throw free parties for her meetup group, duh).

There are many styles of brisket to choose from, depending on which region of the country we choose to represent at the party. If we pick Texas, it has four distinct regions of its own where the meat is either cooked with a rub, a thin or thick sauce, or over oak or mesquite. The Kansas City region slow cooks over a variety of wood and covers the meat in a thick tomato-and-molasses-based sauce. And South Carolina, well, it’s all about the pork, not brisket. (One could argue California is renowned for its barbecued tri-tip, but apparently them’s fightin’ words in the rest of the country).

Regardless of the recipe we choose (because the Pacific Northwest is only known for barbecued salmon, and that’s not on the menu) and even if I perfect said recipe before the big shindig, therein lies the biggest problem I have with being the go-to griller. Regardless the get-together, I get the unheralded task of grill master, slaving away over the hot smoke while the party plows along without me. Somehow, I’ve even tended the coals at other people’s parties by some cosmic default, as though I have no choice but to gravitate toward the heavenly body that is the griller.

But being an apparent glutton for punishment, while searching for a brisket recipe, I now can’t seem to wait to try several I stumbled across that had my taste buds salivating.

So, like the old saying, “A happy sailor ain’t happy unless he’s complaining,” I guess a master griller is happiest when he’s whining the most about all the smoke.

Happy grilling.

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