Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fired up on the Fourth

A few months ago my wife, Kim, got it into her head that she wanted a new hibachi grill.

There are two valid reasons for this:

• Our old Weber grill is as old as our marriage. In fact, it was a wedding gift to us from nearly 33 years ago. I don't know who gives Weber grills as wedding gifts, but I can tell you no gift was ever as appreciated as this one, and no gift has ever given us better service, but its time has clearly come and gone — it's about to finally rust out;

Our trusty 33-year-old Weber has grilled its last steak.
 • My wife remembers the old hibachi grill we had prior to the Weber, and she remembers how good the steaks and burgers and dogs tasted, and so do I. Logically, I'm not sure how much a grill contributes to taste, but I guess there must be something to it.

We'd done a preliminary search for a hibachi grill, but couldn't find one anywhere. Not at Wal-Mart, not at Lowe's, not at Target. They are just not on display in the stores. The demand seems to be for gas grills — even small gas grills that look like hibachis.

At any rate, while I was off studying the Civil War in Gettysburg a couple weeks ago, Kim went online and ordered a hibachi from Target. It was waiting for me when I got home.

This wasn't just any grill, though. It was a 32-pound cast iron Lodge sportsman grill that required some assembly. Any "some assembly required" usually brings me to my knees, but this was nothing more than threading a couple of screws to hold the base in place. I could do that. Whew. That was close. All we had to do was wait for the Fourth of July.

We'd bought a couple of two-inch thick filets, and when the Fourth finally got here, we were ready to go.

So I thought.

Our new Lodge hibachi grill. Our steaks never tasted so good.
 I'd read somewhere that somebody used 16 charcoal briquets in their Lodge, so I counted out 16 of my own and put them in the fire box. It didn't look like enough, so I added four more. These are the instant-light kind, so I figured, hey, no problem.

Except that I couldn't get the charcoal lit. I tried about 10 matches. Nothing. I started sweating in the thick humidity. It occurred to me that I could burn the briquets with paper in the fire box, but every time I lit a match, a breeze kicked up and snuffed out the match, like in a cartoon. The timing was exquisite. It would have been comical if it wasn't so frustrating.

But, hey, I've got a four-year college education. I can handle this. I went into the house and came back out with a butane candle lighter, one of those lighter's with a long snout. Ahh, a steady flame resistant to the wind. I knew I had the answer. I clicked. The lighter lit. But the charcoal wouldn't catch.

I started swearing in my sweating, churning up enough blue air to probably get me ex-communicated from any church in the western hemisphere. My T-shirt was drenched. And a thunderstorm was suddenly brewing up.

Why wouldn't the charcoal ignite? Could it be because the briquets came from a bag that I opened a year ago and left on the back porch? Hmmm, maybe. Any chemical hydrocarbon primer on the briquets probably evaporated out of the bag 10 months ago.

What to do? We had no lighter fluid on hand because, you know, we didn't need any. The briquets were supposed to be self-starting: just add flame.

Kim came out the house moments later with a half empty bottle of lamp oil. Green lamp oil for our old-timey hurricane lamps. I'm pretty sure the oil wasn't scented, but I'm not positive. What the heck? I carefully drizzled a little lamp oil on the briquets and triggered the butane lighter. A gentle but reassuring whoosh came out of the fire box. Flame covered the briquets.

Success at last.

Within a half hour we were enjoying our incredibly delicious filets, grilled to perfection on our brand-new hibachi, seasoned ever so slightly with garlic, pepper and green lamp oil.


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