The Old Broke Rancher Kills His Grill

Old Broke Rancher Masthead

Like so many Montanans, I spent all summer grilling. For most, that brings to mind idyllic images of Dad at the grill with a "Kiss the Cook" apron, flipping burgers like they're shrimps at Benihana, an appreciative audience watching and clapping and shouting, "Wow, Gary, you're so amazing! You've achieved a perfect char!" 

At least that's what I think of when I think about grilling.

In case that's what you're picturing too, let me disabuse you of the notion. For me, grilling is like wrestling a bag full of red-hot badgers. 

Usually, I end up with something charred black as pitch on a moonless night. Then, when you cut it open, you may as well have sliced open a watermelon. If I try to avoid either extreme, I end up with the other extreme. I've grilled chickens that were either pink and new as an infant mole rat, or burned into some sort of dinosaur fossil, but I've never, ever made a nice, juicy thigh or breast. Ever. And steaks? Don't get me started. Usually, they just end up looking like gnarled curlicues of road rubber. 

I've started thinking that maybe it’s not my fault. This is a tempting possibility. Then whose fault is it? Well, it could be the grill...

No, it’s definitely the grill. I bought this thing used about ten years ago, and all it’s done since then is shorten my life and vex me. It's a propane grill, and I won't mention the manufacturer in case this gives them reason to sue me for libel, but suffice it to say that I'm fairly certain that this model was Soviet surplus. They probably found it in some warehouse in Uzbekistan, chipped the depleted uranium off it, painted a new logo on it, and sold it to me, the first trusting bozo they could find. 




One heating element barely works. It doesn't so much radiate actual heat as give off the general idea of heat. I think I could print out clip art of a cartoon fire and it would be almost as effective. Now that I think about it, that could explain the decade of near-raw chicken which I've been eating the way a prisoner of war plays Russian roulette. 

The other two heating elements seem to have been permanently set on the "total annihilation" setting. I wiggle the knob right and left, but all it does is nuke whatever I'm cooking. 

But my loathing of this grill goes way beyond simple culinary problems. If that were all it is, I'd eat my raw chicken and carbonized zucchini without complaint. Well, I'd probably still complain, I suppose. But what made me murder the grill is that it relishes embarrassing me - like the time my wife caught me grilling my underwear and boots. 

I think that, if you're honest with yourself, a lot of you would have done the same. And if I hadn't been caught, I wouldn't even feel bad about it. You see, I'd been coming home from work but before I had to pick up the kids from school. I only had about ten minutes to go to the bathroom (let's face it, that's seven of the ten minutes), change, and get back on the road. But, my luck being what it is, I of course slipped and fell in a mud puddle. A mud puddle full of cow manure.

After using the restroom, I had about three minutes to dry off and pick up the kids, and usually schools look a little askance if you forget to pick up your kid. So my eyes cast around the house - what could I do to clean up, especially when all the laundry was dirty?

My eyes landed on the grill, and I knew what I had to do. Soon I had stripped off my pants and socks, and then doused them quickly in the bath. I didn't know my wife was coming home early from work, but when she did, she found me in my underwear, two socks hanging from tongs above the rippling heat of the propane. They were drying rapidly, and more rapidly, yet they fell off and onto the surface and burst into a bright orange flame.


Bad grill


This time she couldn't even work up any anger or bewilderment. She just said, "Damn it, again?" Then she shook her head and went back inside the house.

It would be enough if the grill had humiliated me in front of my wife, but I manage that myself all the time. No, what made me shoot the thing was much more personal than that. 

The lousy thing ruined the best steak I ever bought. For a recent birthday - I don't want to say which one, but suffice it to admit that it was the oldest I've ever been - my brother gave me a great big Wagyu beef ribeye steak he bought from Costco for just about $100. This would make it easily the most expensive, if not the best, steak I've ever taken out of my freezer. 

A few weeks ago, I had this steak thawing all day while I dreamed of all the lithe Japanese fingers that had massaged this very special beef. I imagined the sizzle that steak would make on the grill, and to my feverishly beef-addled brain it sounded like fleets of angelic choirs. All day at work I had to keep a disposable cup nearby to collect my drool as I envisioned tucking into that slab of rarified steak.

The hour finally arrived; the wife and kids were staying at her sister's, and I was alone at home. I even put the dogs into the yard because I half suspected that once I tasted this thing, I'd be unable to waste even a bite on the hounds. Less likely, but still a distinct possibility, was that I would find the meat so delicious that I'd have to leave my family and move to Japan, where I would become a cow massager myself and devote myself to the ideals and practices of Wagyu. 

So I started the grill, setting it to medium-high heat, and then I seasoned the steak with Maldon's Sea Salt flakes, fresh-milled pepper, and olive oil. I set it, lovingly, on the grill, which emits a satisfying "ssssssss" like the snake in the garden did, only probably more temptingly. 

Then I went inside and poured myself one, ah hell, two fingers of fine Scotch and a splash of water to bring out the flavor. I took a sip, thinking about how great that steak was going to be. I took another sip, thinking about how good this Scotch was. Then I sat on the couch to think about how good the meal was going to be, reminding myself that I would have to get up in three or four minutes to flip the steak. That gave me just enough time, I thought, to take a few more sips.

Then I fell asleep, glass of Scotch balanced precariously on my belly. 

When I woke up, my $90 of Wagyu was turned into $0.35 worth of charcoal. 

A half-hour later, I stood over the grill, my Winchester 12-gauge aimed at the son of a bitch. 

"I hate rude behavior in a grill," I said in my best Tommy Lee Jones. "I won't tolerate it." 

And then I gave it both barrels. 



Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy.  Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV.  Hell, scratch that.  Enough to buy the whole RV.  He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations.  Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.

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