This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and the official start of grilling season in America and I have one simple suggestion, grill with charcoal. At least once.
I was reading this article about whether you should grill on charcoal or gas, ultimately their take was “It depends”. That’s fine, but the part that really bothered me about the whole thing is that they mention “flare ups” and the difficulty of managing a fire as something that’s a negative of charcoal grilling instead of what grilling with charcoal really is, a rite of passage. Grilling with charcoal is special not just because of the flavor but because of how much of a hassle it is. Being able to get a fire going quickly(relatively) and without burning off your face is a skill that is highly treasured in any and all families, hell in society. There’s different strategies from how much lighter fluid you use, to the piling of the charcoal briquettes, to the use of kindling(newspaper), and finally to how much fanning with a paper plate you do(hair dryer if you’re fancy). All of this ultimately builds up to one spending 30 minutes over a grill with a circle of people around each contributing their own input and criticism, until finally there’s a semblance of a sustainable fire going, then comes the fun part.
At a certain point, probably after Edison killed that Elephant, we forgot that fire is supposed to be wild. We’ve relegated fire to a pretty blue entity that can be controlled by our fingers through knobs and valves, but that’s not what fire is. Fire is wild, fire is dangerous, fire is what allowed us to survive. The taming of fire is what made us hairless tiny weak apes scarier than the biggest bear. Grilling over a charcoal grill is the “safest” way to be reminded of the horrific power of Fire(the least safe way to be reminded of it is to be in a forest fire). Placing a burger patty or a steak over a charcoal fire is nothing at first, but as the fat starts to render and drips onto the fire below charcoal answers back and spits up flames so big and wild that if you’re not careful you won’t have any arm hair left by the time you’re done with the first round of patties. It’s exciting, It’s scary, it’s a rush, the whole party “oos” and “ahs” when they see a flare up and it’s impossible to not feel like you’re doing something superhuman by taming this monster and using it to make delicious food. It’s no secret that food over charcoal tastes better, I’d argue that it’s because the cook has a new found appreciation for life with every fat induced flare up that’s survived and that is transmitted onto the meat itself. Every piece of meat that comes from a charcoal grill is a near heroic effort of fire handling and you can taste that.
A gas grill is nice, a gas grill is convenient, a gas grill is probably what you should use if you want a quick delicious cookout but if you want to celebrate life you have to go with charcoal. Think of using a charcoal grill kind of like going to a wedding, you can’t go to wedding every weekend because that would be insane but going to one now and then is nice. The entire ceremony of it, the special clothes you only use for that occasion, the people you talk to that you would otherwise never do so. It’s that special and it’s also that much of a pain. That’s what charcoal grilling is, you gotta do it at least once.