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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Childhood barbecue memories fire up holiday weekend plans

May, according to some drivel I read on the Internet, is National Barbecue Month, with Memorial Day weekend seeing some 150 million hot dogs being cooked on backyard grills across America.

Take that, PETA!

I don’t know about you, but it makes me proud that our meat-centric traditions still abide in this land.

I’ve been a barbecue fanatic since the 1950s, when my father, rest his soul, built an electric rotisserie contraption into the fireplace of our modest home on Spokane’s lower South Hill.

Each Sunday for years, he’d start his ritual by getting some charcoal briquettes blazing in an old coal grate.

Once the coals turned ashy, he’d stick a plump rump roast on a long spit that was held above the heat by two pieces of steel he had welded specifically for that purpose.

One end had a slot he designed to hold the electric motor that turned the meat.

I can still hear the constant sound of the laboring gears.

“Wheeeeee …”

This might explain my tinnitus.

Anyway, being so close to the hot, glowing coals tended to toast the motors right along with the roasts. My dad solved that problem by turning to science.

He stuck a flat, flaky heat-resistant shield of gray, raw asbestos between the motor and the food.

Yeah. I know. I’m lucky to just have tinnitus.

But this was back in the days when cigarettes were marketed as more soothing to a sore throat than cough drops and no one had ever heard of mesothelioma.

Normal, of course, is what you get used to. But gazing back in time, I realize my father’s living room barbecue must’ve looked downright medieval to outsiders.

Or maybe even crazy, considering the way he’d sit in front of the fireplace like the Lord of the Manor with a water-filled squirt gun in hand.

Whenever flames would flare up from dripping fat, my father would put them down with a few well-aimed and self-satisfied squirts.

During Dad’s bathroom breaks, my brother, Dave, and I went on flame patrol with orders to keep vigilant watch – or else!

By dinnertime the roasts were always done. Coated with charcoal salt, garlic and a heat-seared crust (and maybe a flake or two of asbestos), they remain in my mind the tastiest meat I’ve ever eaten.

Which is why I honored my old man the other day by returning to my charcoal roots.

No, I left my fireplace alone. Besides, it’s already filled with fake logs and a gas burner.

No, I joined the cult of the Big Green Egg.

The Big Green Egg is an egg-shaped ceramic cooker that uses some sort of organic lump charcoal that, not so coincidentally, is sold by the Big Green Egg company.

I didn’t really know about the cult aspect of this thing until days after I bought it at a North Side Pool World.

The first tip-off was when, after hearing about the purchase, my daughter and son-in-law sent me a Big Green Egg Cookbook and acted like I’d just graduated from Harvard.

There are all sorts of Big Green Egg accessories and online Big Green Egg chat groups and maybe even Big Green Egg secret underwear and handshakes, who knows?

“You’re an EGGhead now,” explained Duane Spurbeck, a salesman for Falco’s in Spokane Valley.

Falco’s has sold Big Green Eggs for years. I stopped there Friday to talk about what I had gotten myself into.

Spurbeck owns two Big Green Eggs and a similar cooker called a Black Olive. He told me that after World War II, a lot of American GIs brought ceramic eggs with them when they returned home from Japan, where such ovens were ubiquitous.

Adam Moore of Spokane Fireplace & Home showed me an impressive line of oval ceramic Primo cookers that his business sells.

Those things seem even heavier-duty than what I bought.

But all of them, both Spurbeck and Moore told me, will cook everything from pizzas to calzones to apple pies to …

I don’t know if I’m ready for all that.

But this Memorial Day weekend I plan to fire up some charcoal, plop a big roast inside the Big Green Egg and give a smoky nod to the barbecuing pioneer who raised me.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.

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