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Ozarks RFD

Words to grill by


Summertime grilling season is in full swing. Drive through residential neighborhoods at suppertime and you may smell charcoal smoke and sizzling fat in the air. Even if you can’t see them, you know backyard grills are glowing.

I never heard of such a thing when I was a boy on the farm. We didn’t have a charcoal grill. If meat couldn’t be baked, fried or boiled on the stove, it wasn’t supper.

Not long off the farm, though, I learned a lot about grilling beef, working for three of my college years at a Bonanza Steak House. But, after buying a charcoal grill of my own while in the Air Force, I learned backyard grills and big gas grills like that at Bonanza are entirely different animals.

I cooked thousands of steaks and burgers while at Bonanza, on cast-iron grates over open flames from a broiler grill as long as I was tall. When properly fired up the hot end could put sear marks on a steak within seconds, within a minute or so resulting in a picture-book rare steak. A medium or well-done steak took longer, but was easily managed by moving steaks en masse over declining heat from the hot end to the cool end.

It was a beautiful system, allowing us to serve upward of 200 steaks an hour cooked exactly as the customer ordered. At our peak hours a seasoned broiler cook — which I soon became — could reach into that chain of migrating steaks and pick anything from a rare to well-done upon demand, knowing by touch how it was cooked. 

Checking with a knife was a no-no. If in doubt, the customer could slice into his steak and ask for more heat, but rarely did that happen with experienced cooks.

I had no doubt I knew how to cook steaks; but our new 1970 circular charcoal grill was not the same. I could barely get enough heat to grill a hot dog, and the hood and spit for roasting a whole chicken were a joke. Over time I had several charcoal grills, all succumbing to rust within a year or two, though I eventually learned how to get enough heat to cook a steak. But those flimsy stainless steel grates could never mark a sirloin like that Bonanza broiler.

Ultimately I switched to propane, though I loved the charcoal flavor. But, the low-end gas grills didn’t last many years longer than the old charcoal pans. The best move I ever made was to buy a better grill — a Weber — that could get me closer to my Bonanza standard. I still use it, though I still have a charcoal smoker grill and an electric smoker. I’ve been through several of those, too, and I’m still learning to smoke.

Though I know how to cook steaks, and have done so for cattlemen associations when asked, I know better than to tell anyone else how to do it. Backyard grill masters are seldom open to suggestions.

I don’t bad-mouth either charcoal or propane preferences, either.

I have brothers-in-law who do both. I never touch their grills. I didn’t have to be told.

No cook wants to share his kitchen. Even Martha understands that. I cook and she does dishes. We’re both happy with the arrangement.

I’m happy, too, when someone else in the family wants to try his favorite grill recipes on me. Now and then I love to let someone else do the cooking.

And if it doesn’t turn out, I just smile and swallow.

Been there. Nothing need be said.


Copyright 2022, James E. Hamilton; email jhamilton000@centurytel.net. Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or from the author.


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