In Chicago in 1956 one of the welders at Weber Brothers Metal Works named George Stephen, made a grill by cutting a metal buoy in half. The Weber folks were already making grills. They’d begun to do that in 1952. But George Stephen made his with said buoy and a giant shift occurred that day. One hemisphere of his more globe shaped version held the charcoal and the other hemisphere held in the heat and smoke. The cover was as important as the bowl. Bingo! Millions of American backyards soon filled with families charring steaks, burgers, sausage links, chicken, ribs… and more rarely… some fish. Mr. Stephen’s invention included vents that helped modulate the temperature. The lid on top also helped keep the ashes from the smoldering charcoal blowing up onthe food. Suburbia in and of itself was in the midst of a seismic growth rate. Our families were, like so many, in the bosom of it. I do remember our father maulinga few steaks one summer’s night and nearly setting fire to our cherry tree. But it was at the home of my future in-laws that I watched the masterof our extended family man a backyard grill with a kind of divine gift. Chicagoland … where we lived … is a famously four seasons area. From the hot, sticky summer months where the sweat flows freely and flyswatters are not pegged far from the ever present pitchers of ice tea all the way around to the dark nights and snow drift blocked driveways of harsh winters… My father-in-law… my wife Janet’s dad, Irv Amsler was at his happiest coming home from a long day of being a TV repairman to tending his backyard grill. He had begun his barbecue journey with a fireplace type grill. Those were the years just after World War II. He served our country proudly doing his time in the U.S. Navy. He built the outdoor fireplace himself. He learned outdoor grilling by doing it. It was something he loved. There is a fine teacher when love is the spark. When the Weber grills came along Irv quickly saw the advantages of its design. From thenceforth he was ‘Weber all the way’. And so were his 8 children … and so on … and so on.
There are contenders in backyard grills to consider if you wish. Some love the one known as ‘The Big Green Egg’. Coleman, famous for making many camping tools makes them too. ‘Hasty Bake’ out of Tulsa is another much prized. What’s foremost is to find what you love and get outside and cook in the fresh air. It opens up the brain in whole new ways. The odds improve you won’t be glued to the news … dear God… not these days! You might even enjoy the ancient pleasures of nature. Here in South Florida you will never have to contend with wiping the snow off of your grill …or risking frost bite while you work your culinary magic.
The heir apparent in Janet’s family of outdoor grillers is Irv’s middle son Johnny. Though he is a heavy equipment operator by trade his love of cooking shines when he makes his “Johnny Largo Ribs”. Man! … I could go for a slab of those today. I’m sure their dad is smiling down, barbecue sauce basting brush in one hand and a cold can of beer in the other.
© 2018 Norman Van Aken