MAD DOG: Women are From Venus, Men Love to Cook Out
Summer is upon us. You know, the time of year when our thoughts turn to swimming, lying on the beach, taking long walks in the late evening sun, and pulling out the grill and charring anything that will sit still long enough to be marinated, including beef, chicken, Uncle Al, the dog, and that kid next door who's been driving you nuts bouncing the basketball day in and day out yelling "Swoosh!" or "Swish!", the latter giving you grave doubts about his impending adolescent sexual orientation. No matter whether they call it cooking out, barbecuing or grilling, people are deadly serious about it. Well, men are anyway, and the last time I checked there were still a few self-help books that consider men to be people. It might be the longer light of the day -- or maybe it's the angle of the sun -- but there's something about the summer months that makes a man's fancy turn to searing flesh. Especially on Sunday: God rests, men barbecue.It's unclear exactly why this affects men more than women. It could be a side effect of testosterone, the hormone that causes men to develop secondary sex characteristics like facial hair, a deeper voice, the urge to arm wrestle guys who outweigh them by 200 lbs., and an inability to ask for directions even though they've driven through four states looking for the convenience store that's right down the block from the house.It could also be the result of atavistic behavior imprinted on strands of DNA that recalls man's traditional role in the cave as the hunter, grilling mastodon ribs over an open fire while the women eat berries and leaves (knowing full well dinner would be at least 2 hours later than planned), and the children run around whining, "But we hate mastodon ribs. Can't we have macaroni and cheese?" So you see, not a lot has changed over the past 2 million years. Except, of course, that back then a guy like Bill Gates would have gotten his butt kicked all over the cave where now he ends up owning the caves.At the heart, grilling is a simple task. All you need is fuel, something to ignite it, a way to hold the food over the fire, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken store nearby so when dinner burns to a crisp everyone can still get their nourishment. But where primitive man used open fires, and more recent man (or "Enlightened Man") used simple metal grills or hibachis, modern man needs a $4,000 gas grill with six infrared burners, a rotisserie, a side-mounted range-top burner, and a cordless telephone with the fire department's phone number already programmed into it.You'd better quit laughing, one of these might be in your future. Experts say Americans barbecued 2.7 billion times last year. Of course they also say the Roswell Incident was really a couple of crash test dummies that took a weather balloon out for a joyride. Apparently people want the latest, greatest, and best when it comes to barbecuing. Remember a few years ago when plain old charcoal briquettes weren't good enough? First they made them so they'd light without starter fluid, which is no fun since the flames don't tickle the bottom of the roof overhang that way. Then they started flavoring them. The next thing you know there will be charcoal briquettes in an array of fabulous designer colors. The biggest trend, though, was wood smoking. In a fit of mass hysteria not seen since grown people stood in line for hours trying to buy those hideous little Cabbage Patch dolls, pyromaniacal adults threw handful after handful of wood chips on their fires in order to give dinner that special smoky burning-down-the-house aroma. Hickory, mesquite and applewood all came and went. Backyards became smokier than Beijing, which is saying a lot since breathing the air in that city for a day is supposedly equivalent to smoking three packs of unfiltered cigarettes. I don't know about you, but I didn't think there was ever anything wrong with the good old taste of starter fluid.Once we went through all the flammable hardwoods indigenous to North America short of salt-treated lumber and telephone poles, there was nowhere to go in the world of barbecues than to make the equipment bigger. That's what's known as "a man thing." Where the average grill a few years ago cost between $100 and $300, now the price has jumped as high as $4,000. And it still does the same thing a pile of sticks will do. These mortgageable grills may come in stainless steel, have designer paint jobs, feature side and bottom shelves, and have more features than the average kitchen range, but face it, how many people have six-burner stoves in their kitchen better yet on a grill? And how many people need them unless the 101st Airborne is bivouacked in the back yard?The question is: Does a $4,000 deluxe grill cook food any better than the $10 Hibachi you get at the drug store or the $30 kettle grill that's half-rusted on the back porch? I have no doubt your s'mores will be s'more melted, your toasted marshmallows crispier on the outside and gooier on the inside, and your hot dogs blistered and burned beyond recognition. But some things will always stay the same. You'll still be able to spot the man in the house. He'll be the one wearing the apron that says: "My grill can kick your grill's pork butt."