On a day that would have otherwise been perfect for fishing or camping or golf or turkey hunting, I instead found myself preparing for hours of future outdoor enjoyment in a somewhat unlikely place Saturday afternoon: Home Depot.
As you might imagine, however, that’s not where this story starts. Not really. Not even close.
As far as I can figure, this story started one snowy winter night when I headed outside to engage in one of the hobbies that makes my girlfriend, Karen, shake her head.
“You’re going to grill outside again?” she may have asked.
“Absolutely,” I surely said.
“But it’s 10 degrees out … and it’s snowing.”
What can I say? I like my steaks grilled, not broiled. And as long as I can wade through the snowdrifts without falling, and can still reach the knob on the propane tank, as far as I’m concerned it’s grilling weather. Get the marinade. Hand me my tongs. I’ve got work to do.
Grilling in the snow, as it turns out, is a piece of cake. Grilling in the dark, I’ve learned, is a bit trickier. And while I’m not averse to a good helping of char on my char-grilled steak, some people … um … well, they don’t like it nearly as much.
Which led to excuse No. 1 for my poor grilling technique … (and, indirectly, months later, to the grill aisle of Home Depot).
“Sorry about the steak, sweetie,” I may have said that night, or after a similar grilling excursion. “It would have been done more to your liking, but that old grill of yours heats unevenly. There’s a big hot spot … and I can’t really figure out where it is … and … um … it’s really dark out.”
Fast forward to Saturday. Rather than hunt or fish or golf, Karen and I decided to take advantage of Bangor’s handy spring cleaning opportunity, and hauled a couple truckloads of junk to the transfer station.
A couple other piles of not-so-junky junk, we stacked on the side of the street, knowing full well that the road pirates would arrive posthaste, and retreat with their newfound booty.
If you’re new to Maine and the concept of road pirates, a brief aside may be necessary. Try this: Take any object of relatively low value and put it at the end of your driveway. Then go back to your house, hide behind your curtains, and observe.
The road pirates will be by shortly. They’re not picky. They’re not stealthy. And they’re everywhere.
As a matter of fact, many of us true Mainers reluctantly admit that once … or twice … we were road pirates, too.
My dad has a tale he tells to demonstrate the tenacity of veteran road pirates.
Dad used to toss unwanted items beside the road so often, he made a sign so that potential pirates would feel free to stop and plunder.
He spray-painted the word “Free” on a piece of plywood, and deployed the sign every time he wanted to get rid of something.
Every time, that is, until the pirates took the sign.
You can’t really blame them, I suppose. It was “Free,” after all. Said so right on the sign.
Which brings us to the grill aisle … or closer to it.
On Saturday, after watching the pirate armada recede from our roadside junk, we headed for the transfer station with our last load of really junky-junk. The key component of that load: That rusty, hot-and-cold grill that I’d blamed for past cooking miscues.
That was part of our deal, you see.
“Get rid of that stuff, and we’ll get a monstrous, shiny, brand-new grill,” Karen said.
At least, that’s the way I heard it. In truth, she may not have used those exact words.
As it turns out, the folks at Home Depot are smart. They understand people like me. And they don’t even make you go in the store to pick out a monstrous, shiny, brand-new grill.
Nope. They practically park them in the parking lot with you!
Very cool, I thought.
At least, that was my thought before I noticed Karen had walked a bit too far down the grill aisle.
Grills, you see, are a bit like diplomats at a state dinner. They tend to be lined up in order of importance.
At the far end of grill-ville, there are the low-end charcoal models. On the high end are those that cost nearly $1,000.
Even I can admit that kind of price tag is just ridiculous … although those grills do look really, really cool.
But in the middle of the ranks, there are plenty of good options to choose from.
Karen popped the top on one grill, gave it a look, and began moving away from it. I froze, transfixed.
This was, I instantly recognized, The One. My grilling future unfolded in front of me. I could see it all. And it looked good.
Boy meets grill. Passion ensues. Fade to black.
Karen didn’t see it that way.
Two grills down the food chain, she stopped next to a much-more-modest (and much-less-desirable) cooking device.
Not monstrous. Not even that shiny, come to think of it.
“What about that one,” I asked, pointing at my new grill-friend.
“Isn’t that grill just too big?” she asked.
(If you’re a guy, and you like to grill, you know what my answer to that question was … but I’ll share it anyway).
“There’s no such thing as a grill that’s too big,” I said, putting on my best, most earnest, sincere smile.
Then I started itemizing the amazing grill’s assorted features.
In short, you could land a small plane on its four-burner cooking deck (and have room for a tiny helicopter to land on the handy side burner).
Plus (though she didn’t think this was so impressive), the front face of the grill includes a bottle opener and a retractable drink shelf.
I’m not kidding.
And best of all, it puts out 60,000 Btu of pure grilling power. For the record (and after some Internet fact-checking), that means that I could, if I chose to do so, heat a 1,200-square-foot home with it.
Not that I’d do that, of course. Even those of us crazy enough to grill outdoors during Maine winters have limits.
Also, it only cost $30 more than the tiny, micro-grill Karen had been eyeballing.
“You know, I said, if we don’t get this grill, every time we have a big barbecue, we’re going to regret it,” I told her (again, in my best earnest voice).
That, I thought, would be the deal-sealer. I thought wrong.
Karen laughed in my face.
And I laughed with her.
The truth was, we didn’t need that grill.
Don’t get me wrong. We bought it.
But we didn’t really need it.
So for the past two nights, I’ve been out there in the yard, getting to know our new grill. It heats evenly, although an optional dome light would have come in handy, I learned after an opening night miscue. (Did you know that it’s entirely possible to light a whole ribeye steak on fire? Must be the fat content).
But let’s not focus on the negative. The bottle opener works. So does the handy drink shelf.
And those 60,000 Btu? Let’s just say they help our chilly May evenings feel downright balmy.