Ode to Charcoal

I can remember the exact day I fell in love with grilling. OK, wait, I must clarify. I don’t actually cook the meat on the grill. That’s Peter’s job. 

So when I say that I fell in love with grilling, I’m referring to the luscious smoky taste of meat cooked over hardwood charcoal, not the square, lighter-fluid-infused stuff.

It happened in 2006. I had just bought my house, and after spending all of March and April stripping wallpaper and painting, buying the basics to furnish a house and stock a kitchen, we finally had a warm, sunny day, and I wanted to grill.
The only problem was that I did not have said grill, and it was 4 pm when I got this urge. So, I figured I’d hop on over to Shop-Rite and pick up a little disposable charcoal grill and a bag of aforementioned square things.
Well, as luck would have it, Shop-Rite had no such supplies and now with steaks in hand, I was desperate. Where was I going to find a grill? As more luck would have it, here in Mayberry (our nickname for my sweet little town) we have a good old-fashioned hardware store. (You know the kind of place that has everything from coffee makers to paint stripper to lawn ornaments.) Bill, the owner, is a character and without a shy bone in his body.
I called Bill from the Shop-Rite parking lot.

“Can I help you?”
“Yes, how late are you open?” (Oh, I forgot to mention, it was Sunday on Memorial Day weekend. Hey, the queen needs her grill, dammit.)
“That depends, what do you need?” good old Bill.
“I’m looking for a grill.”
“I’m not scared yet.” exact words.
“Great, I can be there in 10 minutes.”
“We’ll wait.”

Don’t you just love small towns?

So, off I raced to the hardware store. When I got there Bill was waiting to escort me to the grill section. He asked me with an intense stare, “How serious of a griller are you?”

Geez, I’d never thought about it before. Grilling was flicking on the gas grill and throwing marinated meat on until it was done, no? But, being that I love to cook and it appeared this man knew something that I didn’t know about superior outdoor cooking, I was going to find out all that he knew.

Bill proceeded to show me the different types of charcoal (huh, different types of charcoal?) and the basic Weber grill. Seeing that I was planning to spend about $20 on a throwaway grill, the $150 version sent me reeling. Looking back, had I known that I was going to fall in love, I would have spared no expense. But, being a cheap queen, I bought the baby Weber for $75.

I also invested in a charcoal chimney, which is that rusted thing sitting inside the grill, pictured above. (Note to you: do not leave chimney out in rain.) The chimney helps get the coals going quicker and with no lighter fluid needed.

Once they are all glowing red, dump them (carefully!) into the bottom of your grill. This last time we also threw in a hand full of hickory chips. Just soak in water for half an hour and chuck them in with the hot coals.

There is nothing tastier than ribs, pork chops, steaks, burgers, you name it, cooked over hardwood charcoal. If you don’t believe me, go ask Bill or try it for yourself. There will be no turning back. (Damn, I should have bought the bigger grill.)