FAQ on BBQ: Call 911, go to ER

Any fool can hurt himself in a modern kitchen, but to really get some third-degree burns, you need a barbecue grill.

Summertime is cookout season. Time to go out in the yard, stand under the broiling sun, and char some artery-clogging meat. Create a mushroom cloud of oily smoke that'll have your neighbors dialing 911. Enjoy the sizzle of spattering grease hitting your howling dinner guests.

For eons now, since the day our humble ancestors discovered fire, people have used open flames to turn simple animal flesh into crunchy, bleeding, chew-proof repasts. Cavemen squatted around fires on the ground, but we've come so far since then. Now we have barbecue grills, which stand on legs, putting the flames even closer to your face and other anatomical regions that react poorly to burning.

The barbecue grill was invented by the ancient Romans. In fact, the word "barbecue" comes from the Latin "barbecus," which translates to "my apron is on fire." Those fun-loving Romans knew nothing makes a meal more enjoyable than watching the host prance around in flames.

In contemporary times, cookouts have become synonymous with summer, as American as apple pie and fireworks and paper plates. When it's already 100 degrees outside, why not go out and start a big, hot fire? Heat stroke is a good excuse for steaks that are poorly cooked.

Outdoor grilling has become the province of men. Big, sweaty guys who wouldn't be caught dead whipping up something in the kitchen will push others out of the way to get to a barbecue grill.
Why? Because of the element of risk involved. There's something manly about poking and prodding among roaring blazes. Men bring their charred offerings to the table, their chests puffed out, the hair singed off their arms, and they feel they've proven something. They've proven they can produce a meal without setting the lawn on fire -- this time.

At our house, my wife has taken over the grilling chores. It's part of our whole role-reversal thing, plus it gives her the opportunity to cook burgers that don't come out like hockey pucks. This resolves a conflict that has plagued us through our married life: I like meat well-done to the point of inedibility, she wants rare, rare, rare. Her idea of cooking a steak is to show an unlit match to a live cow.

I don't feel usurped now that she's the one sweating over the grill. Better for me to sit in a lawn chair a safe distance away, swilling beer and offering advice such as: "Hon, your hair's on fire."

There may be those among you who haven't yet savored the joys of cooking outdoors. What follows is advice on properly using a grill. Take this advice seriously. I'm a barbecue veteran, and I've got the scars to prove it.

Choosing a grill

Barbecue grills come in a vast array of sizes and styles, from the big Cadillac models with side burners and aloe vera plants, down to the lowly "hibachi," (from the Japanese for "my kimono's on fire.") When selecting your grill, the main question will be: charcoal or gas? Gas grills are easier to use, but they're essentially just outdoor stoves. Charcoal gives meat a wonderful smoky flavor, and the risk is high. Ask any impatient cook who's decided a little more charcoal starter should be spritzed onto the sputtering coals. Nothing's as satisfying as the whoompf of sudden flames 20 feet high.

Cleaning your grill

You're supposed to clean them? Haha, just kidding. A wire brush does a nice job of removing ash and blackened meat bits. Don't worry about cleaning the outside of the grill. Just leave it outdoors over the winter and let Mother Nature do the work. Once it rusts out, it's time to get a new one.

Grill safety

Surely it's clear by now that "safe grilling" is an oxymoron. You want safe, you should go to a restaurant. Tell the waiter you want your steak just like you eat them at home: Black on the outside, bloody on the inside, covered in ashes and bugs. While you're at it, see if you can get him to set his apron on fire.

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