Saturday, August 8, 2015

How I Gave Up My Obsession With Charcoal Lighter Fluid

London Broil!
My name is Jeff and I'm obsessed with charcoal lighter fluid.

I try to use my big kettle charcoal grill at least once a week if possible.  That's a good thing.  Before this life-changing epiphany, the food I cooked tasted like it had been marinating in lighter fluid.  That's a bad thing.

Today we're taking a light - hearted look at how I got to this point and the three step process I walked through on my way to recovery.

Nature or Nurture?
My grandfather had a kettle charcoal grill.  During family gatherings he would fire it up (and I do mean fire!) As my Mom and I reminisced about this recently, she confirmed what I remember about his process:  Pour charcoals into the grill.  Add fluid.  Add more.  The fluid isn't there to light the coals, the coals are the vehicle to hold the fluid.  Light a match, take a step or two back, and throw.  Stand clear!  Whoosh!  Is this a pyromaniacs convention or a family holiday?  If the coals don't light evenly (I cannot imagine why not), squirt more in the cold spot.

You may ask, "Isn't that dangerous?"  Well, yes.  The  instructions suggestions on the bottle say not to squirt more fluid into a hot grill.  Maybe that is for the inexperienced.

It takes a while for the flame to go down and leave behind hot coals.  Then the food goes on.  I remember hot dogs and hamburgers growing up.  Maybe for Independence Day, maybe for Labor Day, maybe just because.

Full disclosure:  I don't blame any past generation for my charcoal fluid problem.  I'm all grown up and I make my own decisions.  Which brings me to the three step process...

Step 1 - Admit I Have a Problem
Fire isn't really my thing, so I'd like to think that I'm not endangering the health and property of myself and others.  I haven't damaged my house or garage, so I don't have a problem.  Then again, does each and every coal need to be saturated with the stuff?  Sometimes I would sneak in an extra squirt into my smoldering coals when no one was looking.

Time for intervention.  Darling Bride told me she could taste the lighter fluid in our food.  It was time for a change.  Deep down I knew she was right.  What to do about it?  This was the only way I knew.  A lifetime of good eats hung in the balance.

Step 2 - Modify Behavior
Darling Bride didn't leave me on my own to figure this out.  We went to our favorite big box home improvement store and we found what's called a "chimney starter,"  I read the instructions.  I watched a couple of YouTube videos.  I think I can do this. It is a metal cylinder container with two compartments.  I turn it upside down.  I stuff newspaper into the bottom compartment.  I turn it right side up, set it inside the grill on top of the grate where the charcoals go.  I add coals into the top compartment until it approaches, but not reaches, the top.  I light the newspaper on the bottom via one of the ventilation holes and wait about 15 minutes.  When I see a red glow inside and feel heat, I lift up the starter by its insulated handle and pour the coals onto the grill.

One of the the first things I notice is that almost all the coals have gray edges.  The gray means heat.  The heat is more evenly distributed among the coals.  I feel a lot of heat, too.  With more heat in less time, dinner is on its way!

Admittedly, I'm not a total purist.  I light the newspaper with my butane lighter.  If I were a purist, I'd rub two sticks together until I get a spark.  One step at a time.

Step 3 - Enjoy the Results
How did I ever get by without the chimney?  The burgers, chicken, bratwurst, and steaks cook more evenly and consistently.  They actually taste like burgers, chicken, bratwurst, and steaks!  Amazing!  The heat burns longer so we can cook more items.  We try to grill once a week for three meals (for example, burgers for Saturday dinner, bratwurst for Sunday lunch, and chicken for Sunday dinner).

Darling Bride and I bought another chimney starter to give to her dad for Father's Day.  He, too, is celebrating the lighter fluid free lifestyle!

I wish I could say my wife thinks I'm the best husband ever, my kids never disobey me, they get along together are best friends, and our homeowners' association has given us a lifetime exemption from ever having to pay dues.  OK, none of that is true, and if it were, it would have nothing to do with my grilling.

As nice as this is, I'd like to emphasize that this isn't really about the food.  Whether the setting is an extended family gathering (not always), a summer holiday (too infrequent), or just because it is Saturday (usually), the opportunities we get to slow down and enjoy the moment are worth doing right.  Darling Bride and I often take advantage of the cooking time to just sit and enjoy each other's company.  Summer is so short now that any Saturday afternoon with nothing on the schedule somehow feels like a holiday.

Action Point
This hasn't changed my life, but giving up lighter fluid cold turkey is one positive baby step toward making this side of heaven a little better.

What one positive baby step can you do this week that will make your life just a little better?  Hint:  does your wife (or husband) have any ideas?

1 comment:

  1. We certainly are enjoying the results!! Thank you for your efforts to conform.