The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Grilling! Did we evolve to eat meat? Is a well-done steak really that much of an atrocity? Fire her up and let’s find out.
Lie #1: Grilling Season Starts on Memorial Day
“I don’t like cooking in the summer,” says DJ BBQ, “catertainment” professional and YouTube grilling guru. “Who wants to stand around hot coals in the hot sun? It doesn’t make any sense. My favorite times to grill are late winter and early fall. I’ve got to cook today and I don’t want to, it’s too fucking hot. Barbecues allow you to stand around hot coals — it shouldn’t be this June to September thing, but that’s when supermarkets stock all the kit. It should be a 365 thing. It’s silly!”
With efficient modern grills heating up faster and less wastefully than ever before, there’s no good reason for grilling enthusiasts not to bust out the ol’ tongs all year round. The internet is full of winter barbecue ideas, plus, standing outside drinking a beer is just better than being indoors. Put on a jacket and start a fire!
Lie #2: “This Is How Cavemen Ate, It’s a Primal Thing”
The idea that humans evolved to eat meat, or evolved by eating meat, is frequently used to justify eating the stuff even though we all know deep down we shouldn’t. It’s horrendous for the environment, not particularly enjoyable for the animals being eaten and nutritionally inessential.
We eat meat because it’s delicious, not because it’s some evolutionarily necessary thing. According to Scientific American, at the time our ancestors’ guts were evolving, they were mainly eating fruits, vegetables and nuts, along with the occasional fungus-coated leaf or handful of insects. In The Meat Question: Animals, Humans and the Deep History of Food, social scientist Josh Berson looks at the assumptions we have about meat getting us to where we are, and concludes there was a lot more going on back then than a bunch of badass cavemen chowing down on a mastodon leg — there were plenty of vegetarian Neanderthals thriving on pine nuts, fungi and moss.
Those of us that still eat meat need to accept that doing so is basically unjustifiable in any way other than, “I want to eat this because it tastes nice.” Claiming we have some intrinsic need to kill and roast in order to be human is nonsense. We eat meat because, yo, have you had this stuff “chicken”? It fuckin’ rules!
Lie #3: “Ordering a Steak Well Done Is a Crime”
When it was revealed that Donald Trump likes his steaks well done with ketchup, everyone had a big laugh. “What a low-class asshole!” we all cried. “Only complete know-nothing turds want their food ruined like that!”
The thing with taste, though, is that it’s subjective. Sometimes that taste is influenced by things like knowledge and experience, which is part of why you’d be hard-pressed to find a chef, butcher, farmer or restaurant critic who would ever want a steak cooked beyond medium, but liking shitty food doesn’t do anyone any harm, surely? Much like the, “How do you spot a vegan at a party? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!” joke cropping up vastly more frequently than people actually coming along and aggressively veganing at you, the people seething with anger at the very idea of someone ordering a steak well done are a lot louder than the people actually doing it (one quarter of Americans, fact fans). Other personal food foibles are treated as quirks, but this one is seen as an abomination.
But shouldn’t a paying customer get to choose what they eat and how? If you buy a bottle of soda from a store, the clerk isn’t allowed to go, “Don’t even fucking think about drinking this at room temperature, you son of a bitch,” but somehow we’ve decided it’s okay for this one thing. “I’ll cook it the way they want it, but I’d also worry they’d never had a properly cooked steak,” says DJ BBQ. “I might think it’s sacrilege to take a steak anywhere past medium, but it’s my job to feed people what they want. You want it destroyed, I’ll destroy it.”
Going to the other extreme and insisting on the rarest steak in the world doesn’t necessarily make you a super-sophisticated gourmand, though. “It depends what the steak is,” says Mat Kemp, co-director of London meat merchants Turner & George — currently delivering lockdown-friendly meat packs to the city’s grilling enthusiasts — and co-founder of food festival Meatopia. “A filet can be served close to raw, but with something like a rib eye, there’s a decent amount of fat to render, so you want it medium to medium-rare. You want the fat on a sirloin to render and get a crisp to it, so ideally you want it to spend a bit of time on its back, and want the outside to be cooked enough to get a bit of texture to it.”
Make sure you cook chicken properly, of course, as salmonella poisoning is deeply unpleasant. One of the most frequent mistakes people make when grilling — burning the hell out of chicken while leaving it raw in the middle — can be avoided. “Everybody puts barbecue sauce on chicken before they cook it,” says DJ BBQ. “The three main ingredients in barbecue sauce are tomatoes, vinegar and sugar. Sugar burns, so you end up with black, burned chicken from sugar and fire not fuckin’ liking each other. Salmonella on the inside, black cancer on the outside.”
As for that charred beef, nobody who knows a lot about meat will go to bat for a well-done steak, but the good news about other people eating food you aren’t a fan of is that you can’t taste it. Plus, if the steak thing is what makes you think, “Goodness, this Trump chap’s starting to seem like he might not be the best!” then, whoa, shit.
Lie #4: “This Is Man’s Work!”
It’s everyone’s work. The dudes who insist only a man truly understands fire and meat are, reasonably frequently, the same stupid motherfuckers who claim women belong in the kitchen and expect to come home to a piping hot meal every day (or, like in one of the Am I The Asshole? subreddit’s most famous moments, trying to get the woman next door to cook for them).
Which is it, you shits?
They’re the goddamn same. They’re cooking.
“There’s a ‘horns up, arsewipes’ culture that’s very much about macho-ness that barbecues bring out,” says Kemp. “A lot of the time, the guy who comes in saying, ‘Alright love, leave this to me,’ will absolutely murder everything. He fires up the flame to nine million degrees, leaving chicken in there for half an hour having already pre-cooked it in the oven — fucking hell, man, what are you doing?”
Outcooking Tootsie Tomanetz, for instance — the beloved 85-year-old pitmaster at Snow’s BBQ, named by Texas Monthly as the best barbecue joint in the state, still at it mid-pandemic, stoking the flames while socially distancing and exercising the caution she learned in the polio outbreak of the 1950s — would take a lot more than just owning a fat dick and a couple of balls.
Lie #5: “Wow, This BBQ Has Everything!”
Does it? DOES IT? Unless it’s the GWAR-B-Q, it doesn’t. The Virginian metal legends/interplanetary barbarians host a mostly annual grill-up at an otherwise pleasant swimming lake in Richmond. The year after former frontman Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, died, the event included a Viking funeral for him.
It obviously isn’t taking place this year — although a completely rad 30th anniversary limited-edition, blood-splattered vinyl reissue of Scumdogs of the Universe is available — but guitarist BalSac The Jaws Of Death is, cheerily, full of advice on how to make your backyard cookout more like GWAR-B-Q.
“Well, the obvious answer is GWAR,” he says. “‘But, BalSac’, you ask, your voice quavering with despair, ‘How will I ever get the universe’s greatest extraterrestrial heavy metal rock group band to come to my barbecue?’ You won’t. But fret not, my sweet, pathetic mortal: There are three things you can do to make your next backyard banquet so epic that the gods themselves will weep with envy.
- Make sure that everything you plan on serving was freshly killed. “Nothing ruins a cookout faster than rancid meat, and nothing works up an appetite like murder. It also works up my libido. That’s why I recently had a combination abattoir/boudoir built in my castle. If you’re feeling particularly ruthless, you might want to serve some grilled vegetables or fungi. There is nothing more blood curdling than the screams of a portobello being roasted over the coals. Vegans are evil.”
- You’re going to need to get a lot of booze. “Buy at least three times what you think everyone you know could possibly drink in a week’s time, and then double it. Here’s a bonus BalSac cocktail recipe: Fill the largest glass you can find with ice. Dump it out. Grab the nearest bottle of liquor and fill the glass to two ounces past overflowing. Chug it, smash the bottle on your head and jam the jagged remains in your little brother’s neck. I call this drink: a shot.”
- Get cool people to come. “Not people like you or your friends. You’re losers. I mean cool people. What’s that? In this Age of Corona and social distancing no one will come to your party? Well, screw ‘em. Strip naked, cover yourself in BBQ sauce, run down the street screaming and hug everyone you see wearing a mask. They’ll love it.”