Oh wait, yes, I did, but it wasn’t intentional. Earlier this year, I promised to share this story. If it makes it to the blog, you should thank my editor for providing her services. This event may not yet be at the point hinted to by the expression: “someday we’ll look back and laugh at this.”
This story takes place at the last bastion of male supremacy, the grill. Early in our marriage, I didn’t want a gas grill. I wanted charcoal. I liked the flavor of charcoal, and charcoal lighter fluid. I also liked adding flavor from wood chips. I chose the perfect intersection of smokers and grills, The Weber. The Weber’s round construction and domed lid made it the idea grill, roaster and kinda-sorta-smoker. Depending on how I arranged the coals, I could cook over direct or indirect heat. I could leave cool spots for keeping stuff warm and created hot spots for searing. The arrangement I liked the best was the one used for roasting poultry.
The first step in roasting poultry was to arrange the briquettes in a circle along the outside edge of the grill. Once hot, I placed the bird in the center. The heat radiated up and around, aided by that wonderfully domed lid. If I wanted the smoky flavor, I simply added wood chips to the top of the coals. The grease dripped out through the vent holes in the bottom and was captured in an old tomato soup can for which there was a wire ring holder. The engineers at Weber had thought of everything.
The original 18” Weber was big enough for our small family’s grilling needs. When I wanted to serve more people, and a bigger bird, I had to step up to the 22” grill. In the mid-80s, I was ready for the big grill and the big bird. The biggest and most important bird of the year, the Thanksgiving Day turkey. I was also ready to bask in the compliments of the big(ger) crowd. Our family unit of three and two grandmothers. I wasn’t ready for the weather.
I was doomed. There wasn’t enough room in the oven for a turkey to be cooking alongside the other dishes, bread and pies. Also, since the Weber cooks a bird much faster than an oven, we didn’t have enough time for Plan-B once the skies opened. I quickly began work on Plan-C. I draped a maple tree in plastic, and managed to keep the rain off the grill. My first turkey day turkey added anxiety to the afternoon, but was otherwise successful.
The following year, I checked the weather in advance. No plastic seemed necessary, but I had some just in case. I had charcoal. I had everything I needed, except… a large enough grill. It seems we had purchased a slightly larger turkey, and that critical domed lid didn’t fit.
Undeterred, I quickly fashioned an extension layer between the grill and the lid. Using heavy-duty aluminum foil, I built up the edge of the grill by about an inch. Also, to keep the edges of the bird from burning, I set the turkey on the grill on a sheet of the same foil. Little did I know that I was sowing the seeds of disaster.
A roasting turkey produces way more grease than a chicken. The aforementioned foil under the bird prevented the grease from draining. I folded up the sides of the foil to contain the grease and I borrowed my wife’s baster, the antique Pyrex one we had found at a tag sale. Every so often, I visited the bird, sucked up some grease and squirted it into a soup can.
On what would become my last visit to the grill, I noticed that there was a small grease fire, in the coals at the edge of the bird. I quickly sucked some
fuel grease, from the pool that had formed under the turkey, into the baster. Then, for reasons unknown, I poked the baster through the foil. The grease poured into the superheated airspace under the turkey and erupted into a fireball. Also for reasons unknown, I squeezed the Genuine Rubber ball on the baster, atomizing and spraying hot grease into the turkey / conflagration. The fire traveled back along the stream (or was sucked in, I’m not sure), creating a minor explosion inside the baster. Nothing significant, but the baster would never baste again.
The turkey was fully involved.
I salvaged enough tough dry meat from under the layers of ash to give everyone a portion. Most everyone felt sorry enough for me to choke it down. I didn’t light the grill again on Thanksgiving for over 20 years.
By the way, in case the title got that Billy Joel song stuck in your head, here ya go.