Summer grilling is HOT, but almost everything tastes better cooked on the grill. Is there anybody who doesn’t love spending time with friends and family enjoying the smoky aroma of something delicious hot off the grill? Ya, gas grills are great, but there’s something special about an open flame charring my dinner that makes me salivate. 

You probably already know that cooking meat at high temperatures causes carcinogenic reactions…but as Americans we tend to overlook that fact when it comes to making summertime memories. Is that foolish? Perhaps, but no one is judging you around here!

Nostalgia is maybe the number one reason why grilling out is so universally loved. Most everyone I know can recall good times with people they care about on hot summer evenings. Maybe it’s silly to say, but stranger danger never seemed to be a thing when I was a kid. We always thought it was more fun when people from the neighborhood, friends or family dropped by for some potato salad, or left their kids off to drip some juicy watermelon around the yard.

We never had an official watermelon seed spitting contest (you know before the seeds were bred out of today’s grocery store melons) but I’m quite certain we were competing for distance and speed. We couldn’t always afford water balloons and the adults in my life weren’t too keen on the tedious clean up, but there seemed to be an endless supply of those seeds. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s time I found some old school watermelons for my own kids to play with. I might have become a germaphobe with age but I suppose a few seeds spewing around from others’ mouths can’t hurt too much.

Someone, or a small group of aspiring someones, always seemed to gather around the grill like it was their assigned duty. Maybe it was, I never got the memo on account of the time I started the deck on fire. To be fair, that incident had nothing to do with the grill, but my grandpa was understandably quite upset.

The grill crew had a mystique as if they were the guardians of something truly special, the centerpiece of what otherwise would have been an incomplete day littered with corn cobs and those chewed up watermelon rinds.

I would occasionally glance over during a break in our play action and notice these mythical grill guardians beyond the wavy haze of intense heat, appearing taller and unattainably cool. Maybe it was the allure of those extra large cooking tools that made them seem like giants of the party. Strangely I cannot remember watching any of these men in the kitchen using their giant tongs of spatulas, but outside armed with the oversized metal grilling versions glistening like food weapons, my memories are clearer than the cold ground water pouring from the hose. These were not simply men helping with dinner, oh no, they were champions of a cause worthy of classic America lore, right beside the apple pie.

Legendary as these memories seem I am able to recognize from the other side of the fence that it took some actual planning  and real work to gather all of the supplies and people to pull off a genuine bbq party. 

When I am flipping some delicious (and extremely well prepared)  Ruth burgers I can still gaze through the same wavy heat haze and enjoy the view. However, I now find myself longing to be the kid so carefree as to roll in the grass or tackle the dog with no concern about the nearby poop pile. 

The effortlessly enthusiastic banter between the kids while they play baseball or tag seems far off, like I can’t remember how to relax enough to be a part of it. Is that true? I’m not sure but I’ll take the challenge this weekend to hand the tools to someone else for awhile and re-engage with the playing part of the excursion. My back may hurt but I can still play centerfield and show the kids how it’s really done, well I can try, and that’s the point I suppose. 

I wonder now if our backyard barbecues were ever really about the food at all. Oh sure, I absolutely enjoy a crisp salad and the snap of a fresh dill pickles, the anticipation of each beautiful kabob just waiting to get past the onion to the next Ruth ball, and especially that juicy watermelon! I’m thinking now that maybe it’s the carefree energy, the feeling of freedom and playfulness that always made me look forward to the next barbeque get together. I used to love it when an adult would join our games…it seems like a good idea to make some of those memories for the kids around here.

These days our gatherings tend to have people with lots of dietary restrictions. We often have a variety of restrictions related to gluten, dairy, meat, peanuts, soy or whatever new issue pops up. This used to bother me, as if people’s actual needs were some sort of annoying tactic to cause me stress.

Thankfully I’ve come to realize that no, it’s not about me, this is a legitimate aspect of the medically diagnosed world we exist in today. Now when a partygoer, arrives with an issue it’s easy to smile and assure them that their plate will be safely prepared. 

Being able to meet someone’s needs and serve what they enjoy feels so much better than my formerly ignorant approach, maybe because it’s the right thing to do. We often have vegans, sugar free, or other more restrictive diets around so I embrace this challenge that has unlocked many unexpected twists to dishes that were previously unimaginative. Today, serving Ruth’s hot off the grill is a privilege regardless of the pairing.

The natural versatility makes it simple and I can breathe easy knowing that everyone is getting their wants and needs met in a delicious way. Now if I can just find that old set of yard darts, you know the ones that had the metal tips, I’m ready to show these kids how to have some real fun.