Trial by Fire
Review © by Burton Kaplan

Barbecues 101
Rick Rodgers
Broadway Books, NY
141 pp, pbk, $US 15
ISBN 0-7679-0673-X

Walter Jetton's LBJ Barbecue Cook Book
Walter Jetton with Arthur Whitman
Pocket Books, Inc., NY, 1965 77 pp, pbk, $US 1.00

Barbecues 101 It's curious to think that, for me, Memorial Day, this uniquely American day of remembrance, is somehow tied up with my masculinity, but there it is, Dr. Freud, fact!

It's the one day a year I get to show what a real man can do. And, doc, what real men do on Memorial Day is barbecue.

Take my father, Aaron Leo.

Though he cooked but this one day a year, Pop, like all men before him and most of us who follow, considered himself the unquestioned master of the Weber. But hey, he had good reason. His Memorial Day barbecue was the talk of the family. My aunts Dorothy and Ida (who could always be counted on for three opinions between them ... on anything) might argue over this or that but there was one subject on which they agreed, especially if Aaron Leo was out of the room.

No question, doc, it took a man to turn out a barbecue like Pop's.

I was just a slip of a lad m'self when I met manhood's ultimate test of fire. It was on a Memorial Day morning, a morning a lot like this one, when Pop beckoned for me to join him. Today, he confided, I was to learn the deepest, darkest male secret of all, the secret of cooking over an open flame.

What's that, doc? Oh, for sure! I was dying to learn what every man needs to know but, at the butcher, nothing was revealed; nor did Aaron Leo speak of the lore of the grill at the bakery, not even at the Crunch ‘n Munch Pickle Works.

Oedipus, doc? Hmmmm. Alls I know is that the suspense was killing. Would I ever be able to become a man? Was the day long enough to learn how? I had my doubts, doc, and I had ‘em in spades. It was only when we got to the hardware store that Pop at last spoke of the invisible but ever-present truth that separates men from the rest of humankind.

The thing that women don't get, he confided, eyeing the shelves, the reason they can't grill worth a darn, he added, selecting a five-gallon tin ...

(The anticipation was too much for me, doc, I couldn't catch my breath I was so excited)

... is plenty of charcoal lighter fluid.

There it was! Plenty of charcoal lighter fluid ... the secret of manhood at last!

Just soak half a bag of charcoal briquettes in a couple of gallons of lighter fluid ... arrange the meat on a cold grill ... touch a match ... and BOOM: not just manhood ... and not just instant barbecue ... but instant barbecue perfumed with that manly aroma of petroleum that says, "Psst, hey, buddy, put your nose into this and you'll known what it feels like to be a real man!"

I tell you, doc, remembering that Memorial Day is enough to give a guy the gulps. What a male model. Say what you will, Aaron Leo's method was fail-safe, you could even say, er, well, surefire

It wasn't long after that fateful Memorial Day that I undertook a Ph.D. in barbecue. In the course of my research I discovered scientific proof that the backyard grill is the timeless, true, and revealed shrine of masculinity. According to my studies, it was on a Memorial Day such as this one, exactly 23,493 years ago, that man discovered fire. It was also 23,493 years ago--in fact, later the same afternoon, along about supper ... that there, over a smoldering stump, a guy put on a hat that said "Grillmaster," draped an apron on his cavewoman reading, "Happy Cooker," and invented food that was burned on the outside and raw in the middle.

It wasn't easy back then to be a real man, and it's hardly any easier now. Still, I am happy to report that right here, right now, we guys seem more determined than ever to stick to our grills.

In sharing my innermost thoughts with you, Dr. Freud, I don't pretend to speak for all of the men in aprons today, but this much I can personally say, for sure:

The womenfolk can picket my backyard, they can tell my daughters their father is a sexist, it won't break my brisket. No sir, no skirt's gonna come between me and my Broilmaster. Not today. After all, doc, there's too much at stake here. My manhood depends on it.

What's that? The hour's up? But, doc ...

So, what's all of this got to do with the Rodgers' opus? Well, let's put it this way: If your barbecue turns out food that looks like the late Mrs. O'Leary's ill-fated milker, smells like toxic waste, and tastes like a thumb dipped in iodine, Rodgers' semi-moronic tutorial for the Kitchen Challenged is sure to light your fire.

On the other hand, if you are among those who still chortle on re-reading Charles Lamb's "Dissertation on a Roast Pig," and you understand the difference between grilling and barbecue, and you are willing to consider serving, say, Nursed Venison, Beef Heart, Calf Fries, Beef Tongue, East Texas Hot Guts, or Barbecued Lobster, you'll be well ahead of the game with a used copy of Walter Jetton's entertaining and informative (but long out of print) book. Its semi-unpretentious aw-shucks style masks a wealth of barbecue knowledge. Recipes for barbecue sauce and dry rib seasoning alone are worth the going price ... from $ US 7 to $32 on the used book market

Memorial Day 2001

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