You’re sick of hearing about coronavirus, aren’t you? Yeah, me too. I can’t ignore it, though. I’ve lost some friends’ family, former coworkers and another friend’s ex-wife. My mom’s preacher and his family have it. We have some other friends in serious condition. At the time of this writing, Moe’s Original BBQ Downtown has shut down their restaurant for a good, thorough cleaning due to an employee testing positive (none of their other locations were affected). The Causeway’s best view, the Bluegill, has done the same. One or both of them could be reopened by the time you read this.
We may see more of this, but what we are learning is that bars and restaurants are really making us proud. From my viewpoint, everyone in the service industry is taking the proper steps to deal with what could be a part of our lives for a long time. Quick to shut down, quick to isolate staff, quick to clean. And clean. And clean.
While there are sure to be more cases pop up in just about any line of work, I’d say a restaurant is one of the safest environments with all they are doing to protect us. Reputations are on the line. Everyone is staring them down through a lens of hypersensitivity. The distancing and the safety measures are as good as they are going to be. And with live music on an upward trend, we are at least faking it closer to normal. “Come to the show! It’ll be fun! Bring half your friends!” Hopefully you bring the good half.
So while we struggle to hear a Phil Proctor guitar solo, or eat our favorite cheeseburger while pounding our favorite beer with half of our favorite people, there is the easier option: Cook at home.
I do frequent the restaurants, but not as often as I hit the grocery stores. A couple months ago, I remember feeling weird the first time I wore a mask. Costco made it mandatory, so the choice was easy. But now it’s become so commonplace that if by chance I forget my mask, I feel self-conscious without it. If wearing a mask in settings where contact with the masses is inevitable allows us to have open tables at restaurants, then count me in. I’ll do it for me, for you and for the advancement of the cause. And if you think they don’t work, then why do my doctor friends wear them?
But that’s not up for discussion. I’m here to talk about cooking at home. It’s grilling season, and I just got a new grill. I have all the bases covered except for a ceramic grill, and that’s on the list. My recent grill purchase was to replace my gas grill. Maybe you think I went all out and got a fancy one. Quite the opposite. I’m very hard on grills. This time I went for a cheap $99 gas grill, and I will say that so far I am over the moon.
We shall see how this turns out in the long run, but if I get any more than a year out of this el cheapo, then I’ve gotten my money’s worth. It’s everything I am against. Tiny. Stainless wire grates. Wing nuts holding it together.
So, what do I like about it? First, I said I paid $99 for it. I could spend close to that on burners and tents with the old grill. I also like that it gets scorching hot in about 50 seconds. No more waiting on all that real estate to heat up. Do you know how much money I’m saving on propane and beer? I’m used to drinking until it reaches temp.
Don’t get the idea that I mistreat my grills. I just have bad luck with overused gas grills. I have a charcoal smoker/grill that I’ve used since 1998. I used it this past Mardi Gras. Gas, for some reason, doesn’t last long with me. Maybe it’s the ease of use. I give them a good workout all year round. Even oiling the cast iron grates, changing the burners, cleaning after each use, the canvas cover … I still go through them. I’ll put a hole in a firebox quicker than you can say, “wet brine.” But here we are with the Fourth of July approaching and I’ve already seasoned this week-old grill better than some of you do in a year. We’ve cooked chicken twice, grilled veggies in a grill pan, scorched Italian sausages once, fired up some 2-inch-thick steaks yesterday, and tonight I grilled salmon with a side of halloumi cheese. That was just this first week.
The small frame and cheap materials make this the fastest grill west of downtown. It’s hotter than a $2 pistol in record time. While I hate sweating it out over a hot grill on a Mobile July evening, I’d bake in this thing if I had to. Anything to not heat up my kitchen with that indoor oven and stove.
I’m not certain how efficient this thin metal hunk of junk will be at holding heat for marathon cooking parties, but so far that’s been the only foreseeable downside. My grandfather was great at the barbecue and always used cheap grills. Maybe I’m coming around, too.
Tonight’s feast is going to be trashy, with thin-cut pork chops, chicken legs and hot dogs. We’ll have cold sides and hot sauce. Watermelon with mint and feta will freshen us up, and a spiked lemonade will keep the adults happy. The world is a crazy place, and this town represents crazy well. But we are having a good time on our street, and we’re doing it on the cheap.
Be safe. Happy Fourth of July.
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