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Up In Flames

by Stephen Lautens

September 10, 1999

The summer's almost over. For most men that means the end of their favourite outdoor activity - barbequing.

I for one refuse to hang up the tongs just because the days are getting shorter. With a gas barbeque, I happily look after the family cooking all through the winter. There's something very Canadian about standing in three feet of snow flipping hamburgers. And the big advantage to winter cookouts is there's no tell-tale grass and dirt when you drop a hotdog in a snow bank.

A gas barbeque cuts down on freezer burn (I mean of the cook, not the food) during the winter. Four hours with the old coals and lighter fluid is just too challenging in sub-zero weather.

But a gas barbeque is sometimes no picnic either. On every new barbeque I have ever owned, the electronic starter button only works once. After that first push you can never get it to work again.

Now I'm forced to turn on the gas and throw matches at it from 6 feet away. The mushroom cloud from the propane explosion in my backyard is often visible for miles. Occasionally I've even attracted a handful of disappointed no-nukes protestors.

The other result of these Hindenberg-like gas explosions is extremely smooth skin. The backs of my hands have absolutely no hair. And my eyebrows are starting to fill in nicely again. I don't dare grow sideburns due to the risk of brush fires.

After a while the barbeque itself starts to show its age. You notice that when you take the propane tank to be filled at the local gas station, the clerks hook it up and then run for cover. The barbeque's insides rust out, and pretty soon you no longer have a nice, even cooking surface. What I have now is more like one huge flame that shoots out of the grill like an Olympic torch.

Still, there's something special about a man's relationship with his beef, if you'll pardon the expression. My friend Rob loves barbeques. I think he has photos of every steak I have ever cooked. He always brings his camera and makes me pose with the sirloin on a fork.

Looking at Rob's album of the steaks and pork chops we have known makes me think that we're really just a short step away from our ancestors' cave paintings of bison. The difference being that cave men never ran out of propane in the middle of having a dozen people over to the cave for dinner.
And no matter what those billboards say, I like red meat. If God didn't want us to eat meat, He wouldn't have given us barbeque sauce.

We have vegetarian friends, and I'll throw a parsnip or zucchini on the barbie for them, but it's somehow not the same. Maybe they'll live longer, but I suspect it really only just feels longer.

With the summer almost gone the biggest barbequing handicap is the shorter days. Often I'm out back slaving over a flaming grill in total darkness. It's hard enough cooking everything to order when you can see. Now I don't know how well done anything is until you get inside.

So if you come to our house after Labour Day, please let me know how you want your steak: well done, charred, or Mount St. Helens-style.

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