The Case Against Grilling

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Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

A year ago, I moved from Manhattan to the the sleepy suburbs of New Jersey. I lived in the five boroughs my entire life, so it was a big change.

But it came with some perks — most notably, a backyard. In a backyard, you’re told, you need certain things.

One of those things you need is a grill.

Now, most people get excited about grills. Fire. The outdoors. Meat. Mmm. MEAT. It’s … primal. Nevermind that if you’re cooking on a gas grill there isn’t much to be done. I mean, gas grills are like the Netflix of barbecuing. You press a button and the fire appears.

But it doesn’t matter. Gas, charcoal, one of those fancy wood-pellet things. If there’s smoke in the sky and you’ve got trays piled high with hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs — looka here son, that right there’s America.

And yet, I guess I’m just different. Grills do not excite me. I mean, I like them, but I don’t love them. I don’t need to grill.

A grill is a tool. A grill is not like, worldview.

Case in point: I was in Home Depot recently (because that’s where you go when you have a house, Home Depot). In the grill aisle — right next to the aisle with chain saws, lawnmowers and like, cases for semi-automatic rifles — all I saw was big pieces of polished steel and sharp angles.

Summer is grilling season, these hulking bits of metal seemed to say, come get yer grills.

I felt unsettled. The sheer size of these grills was off-putting. Of course, there were small grills — you could get yourself a little Hibachi — but what kind of socialist did you have to be to want one of those. No, you were a man and you needed a grill, a real grill, one of these bad boys.

But these weren’t grills, these were like… SUV’s. And on them you grilled the meat of dead animals, which you ate, ate and ate some more. I’d once heard America had an obesity problem; might this be why?

And it wasn’t just the size, because the most self-respecting of us know that size doesn’t matter. With grills, there is a not so subtle suggestion about who should be handling these things.

In 2013, an NPD Survey revealed that in U.S. households, only 19 percent featured women behind the grill. Even the language around grilling says much about who it’s for.

One doesn’t simply cook on a grill, they “man the grill.” And on aprons you find cheeky sayings like: “Stand Back, Dad Is Cooking,” “King of the Grill,” or “Real Men Don’t Use Recipes.”

Trust me, I get it — a certain kind of man stands behind his grill, it’s one the last places in America he feels like… a man. He thinks: Technology has taken his job. Immigrants have taken his land. Politicians have taken his money and the women’s movement has taken his dignity.

You’ve taken it all, leave me my grill!

But a man doesn’t need a twelve-foot grill with three 15-gallon gas tanks and space for five hundred kitchen utensils to let the world — or well, at least the people in his own household — know that he’s still got a tool between his legs. He buys a grill that big to cook for like, the Golden State Warriors.

So this July 4th, when you fire up that grill, ask yourself what it’s for, who it’s for, and why you’re even doing it. How is it making you feel. Take a moment, swig that beer — then, pass the spatula to the left.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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