I Didn’t Start the Fire

Almost ready for food.
Almost ready for food.

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.

It rained.

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.

Tukey fire.
Back in the 80s, there were no camera phones. If there had been, and if I had stopped to take pictures of the fire, I might not be here to write this.

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.

88 thoughts on “I Didn’t Start the Fire

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  1. “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”

    We all know the reason. Inside every man there lurks a ten year old boy who constantly whispers, “Wouldn’t it be cool if….”

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Too funny (in hindsight!) Something similar happened at my in-laws just last weekend. My father-in-law has always been a good griller, but now he wanders and forgets resulting in the grease catcher catching fire and then cruising on up the grill (a propane) with smoke pouring out, noticeable to everyone but him. Despite common sense, I am sure he will be put in charge of our next meal there with calamitous results.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Elizabeth. I suspect that I will never be left in charge of the main event again. I do still grill, but proper controls seem to be in place. After the fire, I had gas grills for about 20 years. I did get a Big Green Egg several years ago, but it’s fairly small. Big enough for a turkey breast, but not the whole bird.


  3. Thanks for the Billy Joel earworm! But honestly, I’m not sure who to be more sorry for, you or the turkey!!

    Would never have considered cooking a turkey that way but I’m glad to know it’s faster than the oven, too bad I’m not one for whom grilling is a “thing”. Hail to the GRILL MASTER :)

    Have a great Thanksgiving…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey, I’m just glad no one was hurt in the production of this story, Dan! Good on you for even trying.

    Interesting that you should post this, in fact. I go to my brother’s every year for Thanksgiving, and after a few years of helping him to successfully deep fry some turkeys, he’s decided to go with grilling it this year. (Fine with me — he’s very good with the grill.) Now, he has a gas/charcoal combo one, but that bird will be over good ol’ coals. And while we’re waiting for the main course to finish, I may well bring up your post.

    Strictly for a laugh, of course — I wouldn’t want him to think I’m under the impression that a careful man like him needs a cautionary tale. Noooo. At least, not before pie and coffee are served.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan, this was so funny! My husband has one of those chimney things to get his charcoal hot. It has killed all my plants around it but darn if the charcoal doesn’t get hot and ready to direct, indirect–I have not idea what in the heck he is talking about. Well, think of him tomorrow–tomorrow we smoke the turkey. Oh, yeah. He has it all timed out, too. You and he would have a blast talking through this one…….Such a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sammy. Somebody needs to laugh about this story. I did eventually find a replacement Pyrex baster at an antiques store. I think I’m gradually digging my way out of the ash pit on this one. Happy Thanksgiving!


  6. Oh no! The last bastion of male supremacy goes down in flames! Are you back to grilling the turkey? We tried to deep fry our turkey for a couple years and just couldn’t get it right, ever. It’s back to the oven where it belongs. Happy Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was relegated to a propane grill for years. Then we purchased a Big Green Egg, and I was once again given control over grilling the proper way (with charcoal) but no whole turkeys. I may do a turkey breast. I think that’s the equivalent of probation.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. AHAHAHA! Now I know why your wife is in charge of the woodstove! Mercy, you really did it up fine, didn’tcha?! “For reasons unknown” lololololol!
    For years and years we had charcoal grills. I really do prefer them. We finally broke down and got a gas grill when we moved here and I must say, it’s just so much faster. I don’t miss constantly asking whether we need charcoal or lighter fluid all the time, and pretty much everywhere carries propane, but not charcoal. Sometimes I miss the taste, but mostly I’m happy with how fast it is.
    I roast the turkey in my oven, though, FOR KNOWN REASONS, lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Joey, I am not allowed to deal with the woodstove (although I’m sure I could handle it). We have moved back to charcoal, but the Lump Charcoal, not briquettes. That stuff lights with relative ease, so no petrochemicals are needed. The grill is too small for a turkey and the lid is hinged, in other words, non-removable. I think the size was chosen by design to prevent my ever attempting a turkey again. Thanks for the comment, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lol! I’m sorry, Dan. I’m not laughing AT you, I promise. I would have happily eaten your burnt, er, well cooked turkey, as I prefer my meat dry and extra well done. And I’m giving you mad props for that illustration! Honestly, colour me impressed!

    Are you sure your wife didn’t draw this one…?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. It’s a cinch that I’ll never own one of those deep fryers. I do own a charcoal grill again, but it’s the smoker style that uses a much smaller amount of charcoal and does not light with lighter fluid.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The bastion of male supremacy, eh? That’s funny. So nice of everyone to amuse you and eat whatever you salvaged. :) On the flip side, you now have a great Thanksgiving story to tell. Thanks for sharing, Dan. Happy Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did get a good story Silvia but I had to wait a long time to tell it. I think the high point of the meal was all of the dishes my wife had prepared. Thanks for visiting. I’m not in charge of (any portion of) food prep this year.


  10. All grillers can relate to this one Dan!

    We purchase this little doosey a couple of years back and it’s been fantastic on the beach for sausages onions and steak for our small family of 4. Totally agree with your preference for charcoal over gas. Imparts so much flavor!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You tried . I could picture the aluminum foil girdle fix . You’re on the spot in charge of the turkey . At least you were able to save some —- turkey and face . The fatal poke into the foil ! Well , these things happen ( to some of us ).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You know the Billy Joel song was playing in my head since this is how my mind works, Dan. Music is my zen, my ruling goddess or some such hippie wording. I finally could figure out how to pay attention to this (somewhat) hilarious story, since I worried your hand, clothing, face or hair would catch on fire- – I could only lightly chuckle. A little uneasy giggle erupted at the idea of tin foil extension to a durable and heavy metal Weber grill. So relieved you are okay, no carefully covered scars to bear. Wife, editor must have felt it was fine to post this. Lessons learned; the Hard Way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Robin. I was fine. I recall being a little scared, but I’m not sure if it was the fire or the realization that I had destroyed a big part of dinner. My editor felt that I left some details out (like the fact that I melted the plastic the year that it rained) but I told her that I had to keep this short – not enough room for everything wrong. Sorry about getting the song stuck. It happened to me, which is why I added the link. Happy Thanksgiving!


  13. This is one good holiday cooking story – haha – and unfolded nicely and laughing at y’all salvaging some dry pieces – also/ some sentences are tasty all on their own -ie “nothing significant, but the baster would never baste again…”

    Anyhow – I heard holiday fires are a major danger – esp with those oil cookers and when folks drop in a half frozen bird – and never saw a charcoal grill with a big ol turkey and I like the drawings

    Liked by 1 person

  14. OK, I was being respectful and focusing on your story, with the though in mind that you are not yet at the point where you can laugh about this. And then you put in that photo about “this is kind of what the turkey looked like,” and I lost it. Thankfully, I am mostly living alone at the moment (and my guest was in the back bedroom), so no one heard me disrespectfully laughing out loud.
    I also liked the sequential drawings. It is amazing these days what people photograph. ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. No need to suppress your laughter, something good needed to come out of that day. If I had had a camera phone, I probably would have tried to get a photo, share it on twitter and then have me and my belongings deposited at the curb. On the other hand, if this were happening today, I’m sure my daughter would have the video on Facebook. Thanks again for the comment and have a Happy Thanksgiving.


  15. Well Dan, you and your wife might not be at the “someday we’ll laugh about this” stage, but thanks for giving the rest of us a chuckle at your expense. I’m glad no serious damage was done. I’m rather prone to burning what I cook too… I explained a completely charred bagel as a “Martha Stewart how-to” for making charcoal briquettes from pumpernickel babels. And yes — i have burned water…. Don’t ask… :D Mega Happy Thanksgiving hugs to you and yours!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My sympathies to you Dan! This would definitely be my husband-no way will I ever let him even try to grill a turkey. Burgers and hot dogs only. Thank God you lived to write about it! Happy Thanksgiving, Dan. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Dan,

    I thought years ago that you were a criminal justice major at UGA. Evidently, you took several journalism classes along with a few culinary science classes to boot. I really enjoy your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rick. I had hopes of working in a crime lab, but those gave way to working in the IT department. Technology pays the bill, writing keeps me sane. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.


  18. So well I remember that early days of being married and our gusto for “…the flavor of charcoal and charcoal lighter fluid,” as we learned to use our Weber, the grill of our first decade. Errors were made, but no conflagrations. You win that competition hands down.

    Liked by 1 person

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