Holiday Cook

*The Politics of Barbecue*

The world of politics enters into every arena of life, including the seemingly innocent sport of the barbecue. As well it should, as advocacy and strong feeling generally create the best results. Thus, barbecuers fall into two major factions, each side maintaining his rights and priveleges and opinions with tong and fork.

The oldest of the two factions is held up by the traditionalist who maintains that the old way of barbecuing is the "only" way to barbecue. He would cook a side of beef over a leaping flame or, preferably, a whole carcass over charcoal. He likes fixed structures with chimneys or open pits, and he will slather on a homemade concoction of barbecue sauce that fires the tongue as well as the imagination. We must refer to this man as the Paleo-griller. As grillers are nearly always men - because they must be strong enough to lump around great sacks of charcoal as well as whole cows (or at least pigs).

Opposed to the Paleo-griller, we have the Neo-griller who has adopted a new style of barbecue that utilizes the gas grill. He puts a few rocks over a controlled flame and counts on these to pass on a charcoal flavor to the meat. He is fond of new style "rubs" and exotic spices that go beyond mere salt and pepper, wandering into the realm of garlic, dill, jalapeno and even cumin.

As noted above, most grillers are men. This is a strange phenomena in a nation where women are generally left to do most of the cooking. But male-grilling does make sense in the context of instinct and tradition. For cooking outside involves the use of open fires, intense odors and the possibility of adventure. All of which are activities men have been evolved, by an unforgiving natural selection, to love. Playing with fire is an obvious attraction that grew from man's need for warmth and sterilization. It also gives a man a sense of power to control a force that has the potential of destroying whole forests, or even Chicago on a windy day.

As for odors, all men love to create them for their ability to attract the opposite sex. Food, in pre-historic times was quite an aphrodisiac, especially when it was in short supply. One can imagine a woman in a leopard skin wandering through a valley looking for a mate. She smells nothing from a hill on the east where a lumpish looking fellow in a maze of fig-leaves and carrying a club waves at her. On the hill to the west comes the smell of grilled goat. There stands a fellow in a t-shirt and dockers wearing an apron that says "Kiss the Chef". Which direction do you think she is going to go? Naturally, she will follow the smell of grilled goat.

Finally, cooking over an open flame, out of doors is always a chancy business. There is a definite element of risk when meat can be consumed by a grease fire or possibly ravaged by a covetous family canine. Men simply enjoy risk. This comes from the pre-historic tendency to invest in stocks and bonds, making a decent profit from the vagaries of the stock market.

Up until the gas-grill-age (forget all this nonsense about the computer-age or the information-age) all men were simply grillers. But modern technology created a rift in this cohesive group. The advent of the gas grill added ease to barbecuing, while retaining some of its most male-endearing features, open flame, magnificent aroma and (moderated) risk. But the Paleo-grillers are purists and insist that a barbecue without charcoal is not truly a barbecue. For these faithful, part of the pleasure of eating a grilled steak is the hardship induced by flying charcoal dust, the difficulty in starting a fire, the waiting for the coals to turn grey, and the carving of huge chunks of meat from a freshly tipped cow.

There is little doubt that such activities do attract the latent instincts of the male of the species. However, the Neo-grillers argue that gas grills have allowed us to retain the essential elements of grilling while casting off the more unsavory aspects.

Of course, the Paleos and the Neos dispute over the best way to barbecue can become quite heated, creating a fire no less hot than a glowing charcoal briquette. I have even seen two civilized men cross forks over the issue. The Neo tends to be the upscale fellow, wearing a polo shirt, talking stocks and referring to the latest edition of Gourmet Magazine. While the Paleo hunts deer, smokes cigars and abstains from gamay Beaujolais. In a battle between the two the Paleo takes wide swipes as with a saber, while the Neo jabs as if fencing with an epee. This occurs around an open grill while steaks, chicken and pork chops send their wafting aroma into the air.

The results, of course, are delicious.

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