Maybe I should provide some context.
I don’t remember when my awareness of the grill was formed but I assume it was around the time I learned about the American flag and restaurants with unlimited buffets. My dad’s three main “Dad Meals” when I was growing up were Swedish pancakes, chow mein from a can served over crunchy Asian noodles from a bag, and Dad Burgers. For those of you who don’t know, Dad Burgers are the perfectly formed, artfully seasoned burgers that men over the age of 35 are capable of producing from a grill for their families. Non-Dad Burgers are the charred hockey pucks your under 35 male friends serve you at pool parties. There are some exceptions both ways, but this is what I’ve found to be the standard. My dad can grill anything to perfection and would have happily taught me how to use a grill at any point leading up to this moment but I never asked. I was the laziest child. And here we are now.
On Friday afternoon I sent out the bat signal to my most grill-savvy friends about my plan to learn to grill. They quickly informed me that my understanding of how long food preparation takes was incredibly uninformed.
As if you couldn’t tell from this screenshot, my grilling mentors live in East Nashville where grilling is not burgers and hot dogs, it’s pork chops and vegetables. And it’s an all day process.
The grill journey started early Saturday afternoon at the Porter Road Butcher in West Nashville. Porter Road is where you go if you are craving meat from an animal that was killed less than 48 hours ago. I don’t even know, you guys.
I walked into the butcher shop and immediately understood that I was an outsider and would never belong. The guy behind the counter motioned a hello and asked what I’d be having. “Uh…pork.” I said, convincingly. He nodded and asked me more questions about the meat, each more confusing and vague than the last. His final question was about how thick I wanted the pork cut and I actually responded with “Whatever will be the most impressive, but least expensive.” He nodded again and went to the back.
While I was waiting for my mystery pork, a lady behind me in line expertly ordered a giant piece of cow that she was going to “tenderize at home.” I told her the chunk of whatever part of the cow she was getting looked delicious and she did not respond because I had apparently broken some kind of fourth wall. I hope the meat she ordered turned out to be more tender than her heart.
I went straight from Porter Road to Chris and Lauren’s house to start the brine process. For the less informed, this just means you soak the meat in salty sugar water for hours and hours. I don’t really understand the science behind it because I think I was probably on my phone and not listening when my friend Mike tried to explain it to me.
The period of time between when I bought the pork chops and when we grilled the pork chops is what I would like to refer to as “The Hipster Vegetable Hours.” Growing up in Kansas, gathering vegetables for grilling would mean a single trip to the nearest chain grocery store. And honestly, we probably would not build in a specific vegetable trip so the comparison is already a little one-sided. This East Nashville vegetable trip took TWO SOLID HOURS and included a fancy coffee stop at Barista Parlor (see selfie below), a trip to the Nashville Farmer’s Market where we didn’t buy ANY vegetables but DID talk to all the local shop owners, and finally a stop at a hipster grocery store called the Turnip Truck which, as far as I can tell, is just like a normal grocery store but less convenient and almost none of their vegetables are packaged to easily carry home.
We made it back to the house at the exact time the clouds overhead started to look the most ominous. This isn’t some East Nashville rain grilling flavor secret. It’s been raining every day for the last twenty days and at some point you just decide to forge ahead with your outdoor activities with the biggest umbrella you can find.
Though it was rain-soaked and a little lengthy, I found the actual grilling process to be pretty interesting. Mike and Chris taught me how to light the (gas) grill and strategize about grilling order. Once I got over the intense amount of bumblebees hanging out on the patio, we grilled pineapple, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, asparagus, garlic, bread, and finally the chops. Some quotable teaching moments that stood out to me were:
- Technically, you can grill anything.
- Know your grill and its hotspots. Again, not like wifi hotspots. Like spots that are hotter than others.
- The FDA recommends these pork chops be at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit before we take them off the grill.
- You should pay attention more, Katherine. One time I came out and it was on fire and you were on your phone.
In my defense, I was on my phone a lot because I was writing stuff down for this post and trying to take a lot of pictures. I was probably also checking Instagram and Snapchat and whatever but that’s not the point. The point is, I learned how to grill. I took pride in myself and pride in my country to wo-Man the Grill and provide food for my friends. No, it wasn’t easy. And yes, I had to keep reminding my male friends that this day was about me, not them, and could they please tone down their primal male grilling instincts to let me have control? Did they want to write this blog? Thought so.
Dinner was delicious and afterwards we grilled s’mores (courtesy of Emily and Houston) and played board games.
The pride and exhaustion of grilling an entire meal for six people is not lost on me. Well, it’s kind of lost on me because I’m still tired from doing it. I could draw a lot of positive conclusions around buzzwords like “hard work” and “America” but the truth is that being a Grillmaster is just not for me. NOT WHERE YOU THOUGHT I WAS GOING WITH THIS, RIGHT? I typically take on the role of entertainer when I grill with friends. I provide jokes, commentary, and life advice to distract from how boring meal preparation is. Occasionally I help chop stuff and set tables. Always I try to overcompensate with a monetary contribution to distract from how unhelpful I am the day of an event (example: Katherine hasn’t done anything, but she did contribute all of the drinks for this party). I take a very biblical approach to parties and believe that we are all different parts of one body working together for a common cause. My part of the body is just the superfluous, unhelpful part. The spleen, maybe? I’m not sure how I have friends. All I know is standing at a grill and being responsible for the health and safety of other people is not where I like to be. I’ll be in the kitchen helping chop stuff and eating all the appetizers, thank you very much.
To my friends Chris, Lauren, Mike, Emily, and Houston: Thank you for helping me grill and celebrate a delightful Saturday. I’m sorry it took so long and that I got mad when you tried to hurry up the process by cooking some things on the stove or in the oven. I hope you understand my insistence that everything had to be grilled was an artistic choice and not necessarily the best way. I hope in the end your bellies were full and your hearts happy. Maybe we can do this again except I won’t be Grillmaster. I’ll be jokemaster.
To my dad: Thank you for all the hours you stood and continue to stand at the grill to keep your family full and happy. If ever you think of me, please send me some burgers via overnight mail. I miss them.
To Barry: Sorry this blog is late. I had a lot of words to say and emotions to process.