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The Immortal Mystique of the George Foreman Grill

Say what you will about the George Foreman Grill’s fat-draining system — the real selling point is the thing’s simplicity. Yet for an infomercial appliance that appears all but idiot-proof, it’s hardly immune to disaster. Setting the tone for this week in “Florida Man” escapades is the story of a guy who drank two liters of vodka, smoked some pot and decided to bake cookies on his Foreman. The result, of course, was a house fire to which the cookie-craving man seemed mostly oblivious, even when firefighters showed up.

To complete the picture, this blasé pastry chef was also nude throughout the rescue.

The social media reaction was evenly split between those who couldn’t believe that anyone has this kind of alcohol tolerance — and those who were aghast that anyone would attempt to make cookies on a device designed to cook meat and vegetables. But get this: You can whip up cookies on a Foreman, at least with a measure of sobriety and an “Evolve” model of the grill, which debuted in 2014 and includes a bake dish, plus a muffin pan, as well as several other accessories.

I still wouldn’t do this naked, however:

Yes, it’s almost as if the digital era has given the iconic device a new lease on life. Apart from the widened array of grills for sale these days, the gregarious champ is given to tweeting about his namesake kitchen product when prompted by fans — advising customers to wait until the grill is sufficiently hot before putting bacon on (otherwise it sticks), reaffirming that salmon steak is his favorite food to grill and giving ridiculous accounts of how the idea of the grill concept came to him through a cranial pummeling.

The past few years have revealed a new interest in the history and context of the GFG, too. Michael Boehm, the actual inventor, became the subject of an episode of Million Dollar Geniuses on the History Channel in 2016. (He has said that for a while, he carried a copy of the patent around with him to prove that it was his stroke of genius, not Foreman’s.) The lucrative deal Foreman struck to become the grill’s spokesman is now the stuff of marketing legend; a seemingly apocryphal tale has it that wrestler Hulk Hogan passed on the opportunity when approached to become the spokesman, and the grill allegedly sat in the Foreman family home unused for months before George’s wife Mary Joan started using it to make grilled cheese for their many children. After she cooked him a burger with it, he became convinced it would be a hit. Right after losing his final professional boxing match, he received a check for $1 million on grill royalties. The manufacturer eventually bought his name and likeness out for a cool $137.5 million.

Nowadays, the grill seems all but impervious to the haters who blast it as a cheap piece of junk — not to mention a pretty underwhelming wedding gift, especially if you get six of them — because it survives as both an economic necessity and a “no fucks given” answer to mealtime and munchies. It’s a lifesaver for those who hate cooking or want to get it done faster. And the gadget has retained its novelty, even for skeptical tech reporters: The Verge’s Vlad Savov not long ago wrote of his Foreman conversion, from initially assuming the grill was a “gimmick” to the confidence that it “cooks meat faster and better than any other method I’ve tried,” a “frankly ridiculous” discovery. Then you have the online communities circulating Foreman tips and hacks, a growing cadre of loyalists determined to push the envelope.

If some cooking show did a challenge where the contestants had to use a Foreman, who knows what kind of breakthrough we’d see?

Meanwhile, the grill’s reputation as a favorite culinary tool of the immature and/or simple-minded (I refer you back to the Florida Man article) is less a liability than it is endearing. Pop-culture references frame it as an emblem of pathetic bachelorhood, as when Michael Scott of The Office had a Foreman hack of his own go haywire: An inadvisable system designed to wake him up with the smell of cracklin’ bacon leads to nasty burns on his foot when he accidentally steps on the grill. But when Michael defends the habit, noting his love of breakfast in bed and the impossibility of attaining it any other way, you almost have to respect him.

Likewise, Foreman grill memes applaud users who don’t hesitate to demonstrate its go-anywhere portability.

The attachment may be so meaningful that even Foreman’s negative comments toward black athletes protesting, alongside praise for President Trump, can’t really break it:

And when you’ve finally had it with the grill… well, it’s not like you’re going to worry about how much it cost. Go ahead and smash it up. Get another at Goodwill for a buck.

What I’m saying is, the George Foreman Grill isn’t trying to impress anyone. It’s not a pre-seasoned cast iron skillet from Williams-Sonoma. It’s the grill of the people — the people who are tired of microwaving their chicken nuggets and yearn for some alternative, or who need some protein with their boxed macaroni and cheese. You can try to shame them as lazy or unsophisticated, but they’re getting by and (mostly) not burning down their homes. Around 100 million Foreman grills have found their way into circulation since the mid-1990s, which can’t be the consequence of branding alone. And if a boxer’s endorsement isn’t enough for you, well, Jackie Chan is out here selling the same damn thing in Asia.

So the question isn’t, “Why would I need a Foreman grill?”

Rather, it is: “Why not?”