Richard’s Almanac: Summer grilling

Our columnist’s stone grill was built in the summer of 1942.

Like most of us I spend a great deal of time during the summer barbecuing. You just can’t beat the scent of different meats being grilled, filling the late evening summer air.

I have tried all the different grilling methods — gas, charcoal, electric and wood — and have settled on charcoal as my preference. I seem to get the hottest fire from the charcoal. That gives me the best results. 

I refuse to use any gas since I had a major gas explosion here in 1988. For a while I was convinced that an electric grill that I received as a gift was the best — but as it aged the coil seemed to diminish in its heat production. I recently took it to the dump. And wood fires just need too much tending and require practically a whole day of cooking.

When I was a kid, I remember outdoor fireplaces with wood burning under makeshift grills — they consisted of pipes or wrought iron from a railing or old refrigerator racks — but they got the job done.

The stone fireplace behind my house here was built during the summer of 1942. I know that because the date is carved in the mortar. My uncle told me that one weekend his mother said she “wanted a grill.” So he and Uncle Harry (that’s what he called his mother’s boyfriend) drew up some plans and then headed for the beach.

I don’t know which beach they hit but it was one with plenty of good-sized roundish stones. The trunk of the car was loaded up a few times and the stones were carried back to the house. I was told that it took close to a week to build the fireplace — these guys were not masons, just do-it-yourselfers — and they had the inaugural grilling on the next Saturday.

They mixed their own mortar to hold the stones together and one-inch diameter pipes for the grilling surface. I had my first food cooked on this grill in the early 1950s — corn and large steaks and I remember them as being delicious, all cooked by wood branches gathered from the grounds. 

I still use this this huge grill (my father said it looked like a crematorium) on special occasions for lots of people and sometimes I’ll dump a large bag of charcoal on top of the wood so the fire does not need as much attention. And I have replaced the pipe grilling surface with grill mesh that seems to do the job. I find it very relaxing to tend the wood fire and get it down to ready-to-cook-on red-hot coals. 

For my everyday grilling I use a small Smokey Joe. I hate to admit it but I like the Matchlite coals for convenience, particularly when I am cooking for one or two.

Meanwhile, if you are not into barbecuing but like the taste, head to the fire department’s chicken barbecue this Saturday. It’s always a spectacular event.