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How "Grate" Thou Art

It was a time of renewal and rebirth. A time to celebrate. “Out with the old …” and all that jazz. At last, after days of anticipation (isn’t it amazing how timelines have compressed with online ordering?), my new grill grate arrived.

In the scheme of things, I’ll admit the event doesn’t compare to many of life’s memorable moments. However, I’d be hard pressed to find a situation where one simple change – and something so easy to install -- can completely transform an object or an experience like the moment when one puts a shiny new cooking surface on an old grill.

Full disclosure: I’m a charcoal guy; always have been, and I’m proud of it. It’s how my father did it, and I still believe it’s the only way to go. (You may think – and barbeque – differently, with gas, or some innovative smoking technique, and I respect that; doesn’t mean we can’t get along in this vast, diverse world, right?)

And, since I’ve been tall enough to flip a burger or tend to a loosely-organized regiment of hot dogs without burning them, the classic Weber Kettle grill has been at my side, a trusty partner in all my barbecuing endeavors and adventures. (And yes, there have been adventures, but we’ll forgo those stories at this point.)

Our grill – a standard, 22” diameter black model with no additional bells and/or whistles -- is nearly 20 years old. It’s simple and reliable, and as someone who grills a good amount (but not as often as some), and usually for two to four people (most of whom are non-meat eaters), we don’t require additional features or attachments that would complicate our Spartan lifestyle.

That said, we’ve taken good care of our grill over the years, and it has served us well, offering the consistency and reliability one would hope and expect from such a product, one that has arguably become the single, most recognizable barbecuing icon of the past half-century.

I remember when Dad replaced our old, blue/grey chuck wagon grill (which looked like a piece that had fallen off a U.S. Navy battleship) with our first “kettle-style” grill back in the early 1970s. For us, it was big deal, especially for a family whose idea of a summer trip was heading to the local A&W to have our brown gallon jug filled with root beer on a Saturday evening.

My dad loved grilling, and he had his own stories of danger and intrigue involving fire and food (like father, like son). Devoid of any noteworthy hobbies or passions, on Sundays Dad like to grill, and because it was one of the only things he did that resembled a pastime or skill outside of his work, I wanted to be part of the event. So I’d join him in the yard whenever he pulled the grill out of the garage.

Fast forward to Sunday, a full generation from the days my dad would go through the time-honored ritual of stacking the coals and squirting the lighter fluid, waiting just long enough for it to soak into the briquettes before igniting them. It was a process I learned from him though he never consciously taught it to me. He simply went about his business, likely unaware (as was I) I was absorbing it all, not knowing that years later, I would employ the exact the same process (like father, like son). No, on those Sunday afternoons, I was just a kid watching his dad, grateful for any time I could get with him.

But there I was on Sunday afternoon, myself now a seasoned veteran in the grilling game, working the process to perfection, or at least in the way I was taught by the man who in my mind was the master. (The only difference? I didn’t light the coals with the hot end of my cigarette.)

Anyway, at the risk of letting nostalgia get the better of me, Sunday was the maiden voyage of a new cooking rack that had arrived just a day earlier, and I was excited. After almost two decades of faithful, reliable service, it was time to finally retire the original rack, now blackened and scarred with the remains and tales of so many cooking battles over the years, a trusted friend that had seen me through my best – and worst – grilling seasons.

I’m sure it had a few good days left in it, but like an iconic and aging athlete or performer, I thought, “Why not let this old pro, this Hall of Famer, go out on a high note, before it gives out, before it plays one season too long?”

So, that’s what I did. I bought a new rack, one that would perform just as the old one did for so many years. One that would follow in its predecessor’s footsteps, carrying the torch for a new generation while it also paid homage to the mentor that had set the stage before it.

On Sunday, Father’s Day, when I put that new grate on the grill for the first time, it made the unit look brand new, and I thought to myself, “We’re good for another 20 years.”

Then, as I stood there, flipping meatless burgers (that my dad never would have eaten), and cooking potatoes and other vegetables I’d seasoned and put into aluminum foil, I was transported back to that first time Dad rolled out our new Weber Kettle on a sunny summer Sunday, with me by his side, quietly observing and admiring not the vessel, but the man who commanded the ship.

It made me smile. And I hoped that, if Dad was watching me at that moment, he would have been proud.

© 2020 David R. Haznaw

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