Baby boomer echoes - Barbecue

by Teresa R. Zaverl

For many Boomers summer wouldn’t be complete without many meals cooked on the grill, whether food’s done on an electric, gas or charcoal setup. Barbecuing became popular in the ’50s and the trend slowly found its way up North. People in California were first, supposedly because no one wanted to cook inside when the temps run into the 100 degree mark. From what we gathered, those folks ate supper around 8 p.m. while lounging around the patio or pool.<BR><BR>It’s not that Boomer kids here didn’t have a clue as to what cooking and eating outdoors were all about, it was associated with a camp fire out in the woods. The menu consisted of a cast iron skillet full of fish, bacon and eggs, heated pork and beans right in the can, roasted hot dogs on a stick and baked potatoes thrown in the coals. Marshmallows on a stick provided dessert.<BR><BR> Boomer moms liked the idea of moving the stove outside on a hot summer day. So just about every family purchased a barbecue and they started popping up in most neighborhoods all over town. Remember your first grill? They weren’t too fancy, just the basic charcoal tray, a grill top, adjusting handle to raise and lower the grill, set on tripod legs with wheels. It was something for Boomer dads to assemble in their spare time. The grill was placed on the cement sidewalk (in case it should tip over) and the family made plans to keep a water bucket nearby - just in case the lighting ceremony got out of control. <BR><BR>Our city plots didn’t come complete with the patio scene Boomer moms admired in Better Homes & Garden. That was something Dad could come up with during his vacation wasn’t it? Who needed the garden up to the back door anymore, for it was the time to be trendy and start living like the rest of the country.<BR><BR>Introducing the barbecue to Grandma and Grandpa from the Old Country took some easing into. The Old Timers wondered why the clan would ever want to cook outside when you had a perfectly good stove in the house (an electric or gas one at that), or why sit outside eating with the bugs.<BR><BR>These questions created compromise if some family wanted to invite the Old Timers for their first backyard barbecue. Remember picnic tables, patios, screen houses or lawn furniture were not yet in the plan. The main idea was to light up the grill, start cooking and eat something with charcoal taste.<BR><BR>Pioneer outdoor cooks thought the idea of eating outside could still have an inside feel by dragging out card tables and as many spare chairs as the house held. Matching furniture was not required. Tablecloths, regular silverware and the usual family dishes, cups and glassware were carted outdoors. That should make Grandpa and Grandma feel better.<BR><BR>The early form of barbecue was about cooking the meat entrees; everything else was prepared in the house and hauled outside for the meal. There weren’t side burners, flat grills or enough room on the grill surface to do corn and baked potatoes. Most homes had back steps so the hostess could not plan to roll everything accompanying her outside feast through sliding glass doors onto the patio. The legwork involved proved to be more time consuming and tiring than cooking and eating in the hot house. <BR><BR>That’s where delegating family duties came in. Ma did the inside cooking and arranged platters. Kids ran the goods outside, set the tables and furniture. Dad lit up the grill. <BR><BR>This took some skill and involved some danger so it was better the man of the house oversaw the grand torching. Charcoal back then wasn’t so easy to light. It needed a liberal dose of lighter fluid. Kitchen matches were a must, and if you couldn’t get it going the first time throw on more fluid and try again. <BR><BR>If all else failed, supplying a little kindling like strips of newspaper could get the thing lit; otherwise the air could turn rather blue with dad’s frustration. Once the fire caught it was watched until it flamed down and wind direction was monitored. And I can’t help but insert my memories of a neighbor who wasn’t about to wait too long for a decent fire. He’d drag out the fireplace bellows and pump up the flames that way. He got fire - with flames reaching the garage eaves.<BR><BR>Some men got into playing chef outdoors and some didn’t. Unlike today’s generation of men who don’t mind cooking or experimenting with food on the grill, most men of the ’50s and early ’60s were of the bent that if the wife cooked inside, she could cook outside too, especially if this new way of dining was so important to her. <BR><BR> So Boomer moms formed tons of hamburger patties, pounds of hot dogs or sausages and placed them on tin foil, because they weren’t sure the family could possibly ingest too much charcoal flavor combined with lighter fumes. Besides dripping fat from the meat was a smoky irritant and a mess to clean. Was this better than cooking over the stove inside? Boomer Grandmas even got into the new act for they couldn’t sit by idly watching someone cook without offering a little advice and making sure everything was done on time.<BR><BR> A kid’s main concern was “When is this going to be ready to eat?” while inhaling new smells of your usual burger cooked over charcoal coals instead of the range. We would spend the time waiting by playing in the yard or watching everyone fussing over grill cooking.<BR><BR> The men in the family usually bided the time shooting the bull, listening to the Twins game on the radio,smoking a Sunday cigar, cracking a beer or sipping someone’s homemade wine.<BR><BR> When the chow was ready we could all agree this new form of Sunday supper was a pretty good idea - tired cooks, frustrated fire starters and kids that hauled the inside furniture outside. Grandma and Grandpa from the Old Country figured if nothing else the family got together for a meal. It was an American idea after all, this barbecue, so the general consensus was “Let’s do it again next Sunday if the weather’s good!”