I would like to share with you an experience I had back in the 80’s.  Even though it’s so far in the past, the memory lingers on, and I’m hoping it will give you a smile.  I wrote it on June 2, 1983, for my newspaper column, which was also called “Clackum’s Corner”.


The Great American Cookout

And How To Survive It


For those of you who have been seeing great clouds of black billowing smoke rising profusely in the distant horizon every weekend, do not fear the worst.  It is merely our barbeque grill giving off its final breath of life. 

          Anyone who has ever known, or been married to a person who has come down with what I refer to as “Barbeque Fever” knows exactly what I am talking about. 

          A few months ago my husband decided that this year we wouldn’t fool around with just any dinky little grill.  He made the decision to buy one of those reassembled 55 gallon drums, complete with cast iron grating, which, by the way, takes two people to lift up.  Unless, of course, one of them happens to be the Incredible Hulk. 

          He picked up his pride and joy in Gainesville and brought it home on the back of his pickup, only because it wouldn’t fit next to him in the cab.  Backing into our yard, he joyously wrestled it to the ground with the pride of any new father.  When he finally got it in just the right place, which was two feet from our picnic table, he stood there for a good twenty minutes admiring it, already tasting the first meal he would prepare on it. 

          Unfortunately, it rained the first three weekends that our grill was with us, but finally the perfect day did arrive, and none too soon, as my husband was starting to go into deep depression over the entire matter. 

          The decision of what to cook was made.  It would consist of ribs, chicken, and the old stand-by, hamburgers.   Wanting the meat to have that natural outdoor flavor, aged wood was placed inside the barbeque pit, fifty pounds to be exact.  Along with this was placed no less than ten pounds of lighter.  For those of you who do not know what that is, it’s pieces of pine, that contain a natural fuel (kerosene), used to create a very intense fire.  I would not recommend that anyone use this in any large amounts within their fireplaces, as it could very well burn your home down to the ground.  I know this because when we first moved into our home, I used it in our fireplace, and was quite happy with the cozy, warm atmosphere it created, until our neighbor called us on the phone and wanted to know if everything was alright, because he saw flames leaping out of the top of the chimney.  Needless to say, that was my last attempt.   

          Back to the barbeque…..the wood burned perfectly, once the flames settled down to a few feet, that is.  The grating was set on top until it was nice and hot, so the right time for putting the meat and chicken on had finally arrived.  With all his epicurean skills, my husband carefully placed each little rib, chicken breast, and patty into place, expecting to hear that wonderful “sizzle” at the moment they touched the grill. 

          Well, there we were, the five of us, sitting around the table, waiting…and waiting.  I never realized just how dead chicken could look until I watched it sitting there pink and limp, without a sizzle to be heard.  Somehow, the fire had cooled down and was not doing the job.  A look of panic came over him as my husband rushed over and hurriedly put the cover down over it, hoping somehow that this would keep the heat in. We decided to leave it alone and let everything cook for about a half hour, without lifting the lid. 

          The moment of truth came when he opened it up, expecting to see succulent ribs and chicken cooked to perfection, only to find it still sitting there, dead, pink, and limp… 

          The final desperate measure was taken.  The grate was removed while an entire can of charcoal lighter fluid was poured over twenty-five pounds of charcoals that were placed inside, over the wood.  By this time hunger had gotten the best of all of us and the children were beginning to get testy.  After another forty-five minutes everything looked cooked and we all began to eat.   

          As the first bites were taken I couldn’t help but notice the glances that were being passed across the table from one to the other.  Only a fool with a death wish would have told my husband at that point that the food was still not cooked.  So, with the choice of either eating, with a possible case of botulism, or not eating, and a total alienation of my husband’s affections, we opted for the former.  Actually it wasn’t that bad.  Whatever was cooked was eaten.  The rest we just chalked up to experience for the next time. 

          My husband is not one to accept defeat.  Since that time, there have been five or six cookouts, and I can honestly say that things are looking up.  Yesterday we barbequed chicken and it was quite good.  We are presently down to using a ten pound bag of charcoals and a half can of fluid. 

          So take heart, all of you wives and sweethearts out there, who have not as yet shared this experience.  Remember, when those flames are leaping, and the black smoke is making your eyes tear…….it has gotten you out of the kitchen and into the great outdoors!