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Darrell Huckaby: As spring approaches so does the need to cook outdoors

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

It is almost spring — that time of year when a young man’s fancy is said to turn to thoughts of love — and baseball. I will never be considered a young man again and baseball and I fell out a long time ago. The cherry trees are blooming and the daffodils are peeking out of the ground and my mind has actually turned to thoughts of cooking out. I have been reminded that I need a new grill. I have been without one for several months now.

Me being without a functioning grill is like Yogi Berra not having a catcher's mitt. In a normal year neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor gloom of night can keep this Southern chef from cooking outside. It's nothing to me to brush snow off the top of the grill and fire it up if I get hungry for a T-bone steak or a batch of barbecued chicken.

This has not been a normal year, however, and so when my gas grill died toward the end of October I simply put it out to pasture and went back to cooking inside -- even though the mildness of the current winter would normally have led me to cook outside two or three times a week.

But Valentine's Day is upon us -- a nod to love -- and pitchers and catchers report next week -- a nod to baseball -- so it is time for me to go grill shopping, which is something is something I seem to do every four years, just like the presidential election cycle.

I have always enjoyed cooking out -- even if it is just hot dogs and hamburgers. For years and years and years I used charcoal grills and have had every model available from a hibachi to a kettle. I have had homemade barrel grills cut from 55-gallon drums and wood-and-water smokers and the $49 specials that sit out front of Kroger in the summertime. In fact, I pooh-poohed the notion of having a gas grill for years and years. Give me a bag of Kingsford charcoal and a set of tongs and a few pounds of fresh meat and I could cook a meal so delicious it would make a puppy pull a freight train.

But then I finally invested in a nice gas grill and the convenience made charcoal almost obsolete at my house. I learned right away that all gas grills are not created equal, however. Many, if not most, gas grills tend to offer uneven temperatures. Others seem to burn way too hot and I like to cook a lot of things real slow. Patience is a virtue when cooking out. I have probably had four or five really nice propane grills over the past couple of decades but they have all fallen victim to planned obsolescence and have worn out or rusted out or reached the point where it would be cheaper to buy a new one than buy parts to repair the old one -- and that's where I find myself as March approaches.

I might survive November, December and January without being able to cook outside -- and maybe even February. It is, after all, the shortest month. But when March gets here, I am going to have to have access to some charred meat.

Therein lies the rub -- not to be confused with the secret blend of herbs and spices I rub on my butts before putting them on said grill to cook.

I am having a hard time picking out just the right appliance. I have been looking longingly for weeks now at the models available. I need a large cooking surface because I like to cook for a crowd -- and usually have no trouble attracting one once the aroma of my barbecue sauce begins to fill the air. I need one with a grate that is easy to clean because that is my least favorite part of the grilling process and I need to be able to regulate the cooking temperature and, above all, have the heat evenly distributed. Those qualities are hard to find in a piece of cooking equipment that I can actually afford.

So I have gone to store after store after store and read review after review after review, but still haven't been willing or able to pull the trigger and make a purchase.

Truth be known, I would like to abandon gas altogether, except for maybe a very small gas grill for cooking hamburgers and hot dogs on a Saturday afternoon. What I would really like to have is a Big Green Egg, which is said to be the Acme when it comes to cooking outside. I have become a fixture at Cowan Hardware this winter. The people who work there think I just like to buy hardware and fertilizer. In reality, I pop in just to covet their collection of Big Green Eggs. Alas, "The Egg" is way beyond my price range. I am but a humble classroom teacher and those ceramic marvels are reserved for the well-to-do among us -- like administrators and Methodist preachers.

Big sigh.

I will eventually make my decision about a grill and the pungent aroma of roasting ribs will once again permeate my patio. In the meantime -- anybody got a good recipe for boiled weenies? I'm really getting tired of cooking indoors.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.