Grills Just Wanna Have Fun

Back in the summer of 35,071 BC when the Homo erectus couple Ogg and Tiffany entertained, there weren't a lot of options for food preparation: It was grilled or raw.

So while Ogg tied on his "Kiss the Chef" apron, Tiffany would whip up her legendary Charred Club-Beaten Fillet du Mastodon Kabobs avec Coulis of Forest-Fresh Fungi.

Today, when "The Hunt" has been reduced to searching for the car keys, Homo couchpotatus can pick up a T-bone steak by driving to the local market. But over the millennia, grilling has lost none of its spark. It is the most universal of cooking methods, and it's still a guy thing; "Where there's smoke, there's Dad."

In the United States, and our neighborhood in particular, grilling reached its architectural zenith in the 1950s.

Our block was a smoldering row of rather frightening towering infernos. Mr. Stepper (next door) built this monster altar to Prometheus that, in retrospect, could have served as a prototype for the first nuclear cooling tower. But his was better. It had hi-fi speakers.

I don't remember the Steppers actually using their grill that much - perhaps because it was a threat to his maple trees - but it had great sound.

Not to be outdone (although, come to think of it, he usually was), my father built a cement and fieldstone structure, that, until I visited Chartres Cathedral, was the most inspiring structure I had ever seen.

Fueled with wood, charred marshmallows (and a variety of meats that kept falling through the grate), it remained an object of awe and reverence for decades.

Although the actual grilling process hasn't changed since Ogg and Tiffany wowed their Neanderthal neighbors, grilling equipment and our style of entertaining have been in constant flux.

Starting around the 1930s, front porches in the US began being snipped from house blueprints, and entertaining gradually began its gradual shift from the front toward the back of the house. Cookbook author and caterer Sarah Chase observes: "Society has become more relaxed.... People are cooking for enjoyment.... Dinner parties aren't held in formal dining rooms anymore, they're moving toward the 'back -of-the-house' to the kitchen or patio."

And as those barbecue behemoths of our forefathers began to crumble, portable grills became all the fashion paving the way for today's, ta-daaaa! - Super Grill. (See story above.)

"Our customers want a super-luxury product," says Mike Kempster, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Weber-Stephen Products, "like their luxury sport-utility vehicles or their commercial-quality kitchen appliances."

These new Godzilla grills don't just have a bell here and whistle there, they come with full timpani: high-output burners, range-style sideburners, food warming racks, individual cooking zones, stainless steel work tables, rotisseries, ice buckets, and condiment holders.

"Our dealers are telling us that when they sell one of these new grills, they can expect to sell another one to a neighbor who saw the first one in action," says Mr. Kempster. (OK, but where are the hi-fi speakers? Mr. Stepper wants to know.)

But say what you will about razzle-dazzle equipment and grills the size of the family Buick, or whether you prefer charcoal, or go for the gas. When the smoke clears, it's not so much the grill, but the griller.

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