Up in My Retro Grill
Jul 27, 2016 | by Ellen Dial
Yep, this summer is rolling right along – we’re in the dog days. Frankly, it’s been weird here in Indiana (either monsoons or hotter than the face of the Sun). We’re currently enjoying the latter, with off the charts humidity. It’s hot, Africa hot. Stay inside hot. Cattle warning hot.
Thank God for a/c is all I’m sayin’.
Weather drama aside, summer is prime grilling time. The luscious scent of juicy grilled burgers and chicken perfume the evening air – friends and neighbors gather for outdoor fun. We’ve gotten pretty fancy with our grilling menus and techniques over the past several years. Smoked anything (including cheese), beer-butt chicken, and black nugget burgers. We put EVERYTHING on the grill – vegetables ( Brussels sprouts and asparagus are my personal faves!), fruit, pork loin (super noms!) – even pizza now gets full grill treatment. We mix-up foodie quality marinades, rubs and sauces – balsamic reduction and honey drizzles come to mind. We agonize over what wine or craft beer pairs well with peri-peri sauced chicken and veg. Direct or indirect heat. Charcoal, gas or infrared heat sources, or all three together. Side griddles and burners. Grills the size of a small rowboat sporting $5,000+ price tags. Bluetooth meat thermometers. Even grill cameras. Seriously, we can FaceTime with our grills.
Present day patios, decks and porches are super deluxe! Big furniture with big cushions. Pergolas. Elaborate stone work. Wine chillers. Beer taps. Enormous gourmet grill stations (see above). Concert hall quality sound systems. Even flat screen TV’s. Basically, an entire kitchen + living room + media room outside. With ceiling fans to boot! Woohoo! I must admit, my love of vintage aside, some of it’s pretty cool. OK, not the TV, but the rest of it.
Retro Grill | Low Tech, Cold Tall Boys and a Pair of Black Dress Shoes
Riddle me this, what would my Grandpa Bernie say?
He’d say, “Ellie, this is Crazytown”, that’s what.
Now, you’ve met several of my ancestors over the past year or so, Great Aunties Carrie, Pauline and Louise. The devilishly handsome dynamic duo of great Uncles, John and Jim Cassidy – they of the chair and the drink awesomeness. But not my beloved Grandpa Bernie – funny, spoiled, tall boy beer drinking, piano playing, K of C meeting hall member (replete with top hat and saber) grandfather. He was married to Lucille – she of cake, cookie and Schmargel fame. My wonderful momma’s father.
I remember Grandpa Bernie – all the grandkids loved him! He made us laugh, a lot. Two other stand outs, besides his humor and an almost fanatical devotion to Lawrence Welk and the Champagne Ladies, were his amazing El Camino and his retro grilling talents. Let me paint you a picture: it’s a hot August night in Terre Haute, IN, circa 1969. A beat-up charcoal grill is dragged to the center of the driveway – an old school aluminum lawn chair is placed along side. Tinny music or the ballgame blasts out of a transistor radio. Bernie is clad in a white t-shirt, loud madras shorts, black dress socks pulled up tight and black dress shoes. I kid you not! Dress shoes. It was fabulous! There’s a cold tall boy cracked open and back up brews at the ready.
I can safely say, he was NOT worried about balsamic reductions, pairing his beer or roasting fresh sprouts. His grill probably cost $5. No snazzy rubs or marinades. It was all about man’s primal desire for roasted meat. Add to that, the chance to play with fire. Plus, it got him out of the house – he could sip his tall boy in peace. The trifecta.
A purist in the truest sense of the word.
Those burgers and hot dogs he oversaw? Perfect in their roasty deliciousness – just what this five year old, future vintage maven and her little cousins wanted. The indescribable umami of a charcoal fire, smoke and the ubiquitous undercurrent of starter fluid on the palate for good measure – all lovingly made for us and presented on soft, white bread buns. With a cold coke and Chesty Potato Chips. Summer heaven!
How did cooking out become a thing? When did a basic component of survival – read prehistoric humans cooking chunks of mastodon on an open fire or trail weary cowboys roasting skinny rabbits on sticks – become a summer evening staple?
You may recall some comments from a past story in which modern fashion decisions were maligned and the post-WWII exodus from the city to the suburbs? No? Here’s the link. Well, that’s when grilling really started.
To be fair, there are photographic and literary references to outdoor barbecuing/grilling (two totally different things, find out more about that here) dating all the way back to the Civil War. I mean, who could forget the BBQ at Twelve Oaks from “Gone With the Wind”? Sorry Rhett, but for this story, we’re sticking to the not so distant past. Of course such a charming and drop dead handsome hunk such as yourself is always welcome here, cook out notwithstanding. Could you please bring a bottle (or 12) of lovely French rose, Spanish bubbles or Oregon Pinot noir when you come? You’ll bring four of each? That would be perfect, thank you.
Back to the Boomers!
Retro Grill | Spam and Other Tasty Delights
The returning GI’s got their grill on. Burgers, steak and hot dogs were the typical fare. Maybe throw some corn on the fire. Get daring with Spam-kebabs – complete with tiny tomatoes, whole mushrooms, bits of mozzarella cheese and canned pineapple. Oh, don’t forget the Wesson Oil – America’s liquid lard. Crack open a PBR. Have the wifey make some sort of salad thing. Of course, there’s always room for jell-o.
Check out the retro grills shown in the article! I love, love the blue one in particular – and the plaid! PLAID!
Backyard entertainment really started to ramp up – remember the cookout scene from “The Graduate”? Grills got more complex, with built in rotisseries and the like. Stuff matched: chairs, grills and even the tablecloths! I know, right? Tiki drinks. Tiki torches. Tiki everything.
Have a pool? Even better! You could match, and why not, your swim suit and cover-up to your grill!
Our parents really made outdoor entertaining and grilling the event we think of now. The 1950’s through the 1970’s were perhaps the more simple, golden years of great outdoor cooking. While they didn’t fret over caramelizing Vidalia onions, they definitely revived our desire to cook over an open flame. An activity that was typically reserved for camping was now enjoying mainstream acceptance. Over the past several decades, we’ve perfected it and made it an art form. Cooking out gotten bigger, fancier and more complex.
Just like everything else.
To Our Dear Readers: do you have a favorite cook out memory or tradition? We’d love to hear all about it!
For readers wanting more recipes for their retro grill – check out this one from Backyard Boss!
The writer would like to thank: Alice Dial, Lucille and Bernard Hayworth, her own dodgy memory, cnn.com, Wikipedia.com, grilljunkieguy.com, gunthertoodeys.com and howstuffworks.com and those who post their images freely on the Internet.