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Dan Conradt: Cooking meat over fire, how hard can it be?

The guy was standing on the edge of a pasture, surrounded by cattle and half a dozen barbecue grills.

For two hours I'd watched him grill chicken, sweet corn, T-bone steak, ham, rainbow trout and garlic bread. He had reminded me so often how easy it was to barbecue that I was starting to believe him.

It was probably my imagination, but it even smelled good.

The barbecue guy threw a rack of ribs the size of a bed pillow onto the grill, then another guy came on and made his plea for a contribution to public television.

That's when Carla called out from the kitchen: "Is anyone getting hungry?"


I'd just spent two hours watching a guy cooking on the grill, so it was kind of a rhetorical question: "I am," I said.

"Me, too," Steven added.

"I'll start dinner," Carla said, and I heard her pull a baking dish from a kitchen cabinet.

I should have kept my mouth shut, but that's never been one of my strengths. Besides, I'd been inspired: "Why don't I put the ribs on the grill?"

If anyone had misgivings about my ability to cook ribs on the grill, they didn't speak up; in our house, if someone offers to cook you let them.

In the past I'd proven myself a capable griller of bratwurst, and my edible-to-inedible hamburger ratio was about two-to-one: could a rack of ribs really be any more difficult?

I rolled the barbecue grill out of the garage and into the middle of the driveway and turned the control knob to the "light" position. The flame flared to life with a whoosh.

I reduced the flame to "low" and arranged the ribs on the grate. It only took a minute for the breeze to spread the mouth-watering smell of barbecue, and this time it wasn't my imagination.


Cooking raw meat over fire: there's something primal about it.

I stepped back into the house and took my normal spot in front of the TV; the barbecue guy was arranging inch-thick pork chops on his grill, describing the ingredients that went into his very own pork chop seasoning blend.

A recipe, incidentally, that can be yours if you call now with your pledge of support for PBS.

My mind wandered as I considered the ingredients in our kitchen that might make for a good seasoning blend: crushed black pepper, garlic salt, paprika, caraway seed …

Steven's voice brought me back to reality: "Dad! There's fire coming from the grill!"

"No, he just put the pork chops on, and he's cooking them on low heat to keep them tender," I explained.

"No, not the grill on TV … OUR GRILL!"

I glanced toward the front door just as a bank of gray/white smoke rolled past. Despite my limited grilling experience, I knew that was not a good sign.


I ran out the door and found flames curling up from under the grill hood; the blaze was only slightly smaller than the homecoming bonfire my freshman year in high school.

I turned the grill controls to "off," but the flames continued snaking from under the hood. I pulled a garden hose out of the garage and fumbled to attach it to the spigot on the side of the house. My fumbling lasted just long enough for me to wonder whether I should douse a grill fire with water, or if I had time to search the kitchen cabinets for 30 pounds of baking soda.

It was just enough time for the flames to start to sputter. I carefully lifted the hood; the $17 rack of ribs that had looked so promising had been reduced to a grizzled lump of charcoal; the last remaining drops of grease dripped into the dying flames with a sizzle.

Twenty minutes later we sat down to supper; the frozen pizza was done to perfection.

I turned the TV back on, hoping the PBS barbecue marathon was over. It was.

Instead, four guys wearing tool belts were explaining how easy it is to renovate your own bathroom.

No one objected when I changed the channel.

It's been my experience that do-it-yourself always works best when you let someone else do it for you.

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