When it’s 90-something degrees outside and the air itself has been replaced by hot, claggy soup, it doesn’t feel like it should need pointing out that standing next to a large, open flame is a terrible idea. Yet for some reason, “grilling in the middle of summer is stupid” is a notion so radical it requires defending. The immediate argument is perfectly straightforward: Your (possibly air-conditioned) kitchen is 10 feet away and, in all likelihood, far better equipped to prepare whatever it is you’re trying to cook than that lopsided grill yellowing the grass in the backyard. Learn to use your broiler, get out of the sun and stop pretending that this is something that actually needs to happen in order for the people around you to eat.
This insistence on grilling as an official requirement of summer is its most maddening aspect — another item on the exhaustingly long list of things we do not because they make sense or because we like them, but because we’re supposed to. Middle-aged Gregs grill because at some point they have learned — through cultural osmosis, through fellow Greg peer pressure — that this is what Gregs do. It didn’t have to be grilling — it could have been anything.
In an alternate timeline, perhaps it might have been an omelette station that took pride of place by the back door. Perhaps pâtisserie might have been the ultimate suburban dad signifier, and we could have spent every summer watching flushed, balding guys in past-the-knee jean shorts arguing passionately about the best way to temper white chocolate and getting intensely territorial about their Doyon MDF330 countertop dough divider. While diligently separating egg whites they would make deprecating jokes about their wives, relegated to slapping great slabs of red meat on the grill outside — women’s work, amiright???
But as has been thoroughly established in recent years, we live in the worst timeline, and for us, the yard is the man’s domain (not, y’know, the flowers, but the lawn and mulch and putting creosote on the shed roof and stuff). Anything that takes place out there is de facto man’s work, and as such, grilling becomes the “no homo” of meal preparation. That’s why the grill guy is such an infuriating figure: He’s a man who’ll talk your ear off about his perfect technique for applying a dry rub, but who you know for a fact has never packed his kids’ lunches in his life.
Look, if you like to stand next to a literal fireball in direct, punishing sunlight, knock yourself out (if you actually do knock yourself out, that’s probably heatstroke). But don’t ever feel that, just because you wanted to hang out with some buds in the backyard, you’re required to fire up the grill. Go be present with your friends. Order a pizza. Prepare a giant salad in advance. Who decided that hamburgers were what we’re supposed to eat when it’s 100 degrees out, anyway?
I know it’s traditional, but — and I can’t stress this enough — tradition has never been a good reason for doing anything. Tradition is the reason we gave for not allowing women to vote until 1920. Tradition is the reason we gave for not allowing gay people to get married until 2015. Tradition is the reason people give for doing stuff like rounding up hundreds of dolphins and stabbing them in the neck until they bleed to death. Anyone who argues that something should be done simply because of tradition is almost certainly a vicious moron, so ignore that shit, wheel the grill back into your freshly creosoted shed and have the delightful ice cream party you actually wanted.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that the discomfort of the whole thing is the point, that the endurance aspect — sweatily standing your ground against both fire and, by God, the actual sun itself — is the real draw. But holy hell, are we that fundamentally broken as a gender? Would it really cause irreparable psychic damage to just admit, “You know what, it’s a bit hot out there, I don’t much fancy it”?
I have sweated through enough underwear in my life, wondering who the fuck wants a hot dog this badly, to know that I am completely comfortable now in my decision to grill, if at all, no earlier than the middle of autumn — a time of year when fiery warmth and meat-laden smoke are a welcome addition to the proceedings, rather than a smothering blanket of horrors.
Regardless of the season, though, the question remains of whether or not it’s ever truly “worth it” to grill, and in most cases — especially considering that grill char will give you cancer — it just isn’t. While there are grill chefs out there, I’m sure, who can make senses-shattering culinary masterpieces with little more than a sack of charcoal and a pair of really nice tongs, the average guy is sweating out their internal organs in the name of a deeply mediocre cheeseburger. And honestly, if you live in America and a deeply mediocre cheeseburger is the secret ingredient for your perfect summer, buddy, do I have some good news for you.