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Consider propane, please


November 30, 2017

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Consider propane, please

 

By Katherine Fallon

 

We have been talking about getting a grill for a while now. My partner is a serious Consumer Reports researcher, and identified several promising models. A few were propane, and a few were charcoal.

 

We read reviews of each model, and breakdowns of the differences between a propane and a gas grill. Propane is, to sum it up, much easier to use. It takes less time to heat, to cook, and to cool. It requires significantly less cleaning and fewer steps along the path to finally having cooked food.

 

However, I have always romanticized charcoal grills, probably because I have never had one myself, living vicariously through those in my life who do. I associate them with parties, with good weather, and with camping trips. I love the taste of the fire’s singe, and the smell of the coals as they smolder and smoke. I am outspoken about my jealousy each time we smell someone else’s grill.

 

I also have a history of loving what is most complicated, so charcoal was always the obvious choice, but while I was out of town a few weeks ago, my father-in-law visited and scared my partner into thinking the charcoal grill would burn the house down. He harped upon this — there is always something he harps upon — and  begged Nikki to buy a propane grill, then suggested one far outside our budget.

 

Her father is very kind to me, and very thoughtful. He has always been inclusive, and brings me trinkets that show he has been paying attention. But he is a complicated man, and feels the compulsion to teach us about something, even if it’s something we know as much about as he does.

 

To say he always has to be right is oversimplifying; it is more like he always needs to be knowing. He calls himself the “Old Man” and fancies himself a sage. At times, I handle it better than others. This was not one of my better times.

 

When Nikki told me later about his crusade for propane — his parting words were “Consider propane, please,” as though pleading with us to quit taking drugs — my decision was made.

 

When I got home, we bought a massive charcoal grill, and I spent hours reading about proper technique: the two-zone fire, the position of the grates and vent openings, the ideal temperatures of both the grill itself and the food being cooked, when to remove meat and let it rest.

 

I have made two attempts to use the grill and have been unsuccessful both times. I finished the first batch of food on a stove-top grill pan, admitting defeat. I don’t understand yet how close the coals should be, how oiled the grates should be, how thin the meat should be tenderized, the staggering of food so that everything is hot when plates are made. I don’t understand how sooty the coals should be inside the chimney before dumping them into the grill itself, or how to avoid the nearly opaque and endless cloud of gray smoke that billows off of the coals as they first catch.

 

After my first attempt, I threw a bit of a hissy fit. Nikki kindly reminded me that I chose this grill and that at the time of purchase, I pronounced dramatically that we were just going to have to deal with the charcoal learning curve with dignity.

 

So this weekend, I lit it up again, trying a few new things, and the results were neither great nor pathetic. I am happy to report that my response was also much improved. After that first disappointment, I thought that I’d made a dumb move simply to be contrary.

 

Then I remembered that propane was never an option in my mind. It is as much about the process as it is about the food. I love a challenge, and I will learn to love this one. I am happy to screw up repeatedly, and in various ways, if it means that improvement becomes triumph.

 

 

 

 


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