Here’s one of the guest columns Bill Rausch has written for us, and they’re always a joy to edit. This one appeared July 4, 2014.
The Grill-A-Zilla thrilla heats up
BILL RAUSCH SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Barney and I get into this every summer. It starts out innocent enough, but by the time the Fourth of July rolls around, it reaches a fever pitch. A backyard barbecue brouhaha that culminates in what has come to be known as Grill-A-Zilla.
The competition heats up in May, just before Memorial Day. But weeks, if not months before that, we start our strategic planning by pouring through catalogs, googling websites, and reading back issues of Lord Of The Grill, researching all of the leading-edge gizmos, gadgets, and gastronomic-gotta-have grills.
For the 15 years that we’ve been doing this I’ve been through 16 new barbecue grills. In ’97, I switched midseason from a seven-burner gas model to a wood-fired brick kiln that I built myself from plans I sent for out of the July issue of Popular Mechanics.
But this year, I just didn’t know which way to go. I had read several articles about some sort of egg-shaped, porcelain-lined charcoal wonder guaranteed to produce perfect pot roasts and succulent steaks every time. But when I saw that the folks out in California were clamoring for it, that was all I needed to know. No way was I going to have some New Age Star Wars gadget in my backyard.
I needed to know what Barney was going to be firing up this year and had been stalking him for days as he went from one big-box store to another. Every time I would get close, he’d see me and point two V-shaped fingers at his eyes and then point them at me … whatever that’s supposed to mean.
So, I swapped my ’86 Corolla for my brother-in-law’s F-250 lime-green dually pickup with custom red and orange flames painted on the fenders and hood. You know—so Barney wouldn’t notice me. Everyone knows my ’86 Corolla with its duct-taped Wal-Mart bags covering the gaping hole where the back window used to be and the long-since-missing trunk lid that I removed years ago and made sort of a mini-pickup.
As I crouched in the front seat of his diesel-powered, dually behemoth, I spied Barney walking out of Target pushing a brand-new stainless steel, natural gas, LP, charcoal and wood-burning Lightning Bolt Model Z-51 grill.
I don’t know how Barney does it, but every spring he sweet-talks Barbie, his wife, into letting him get the newest monster grill. The Z-51, in addition to its multiple fuel-source capabilities, also provided, as an optional feature (which I’m sure he had to have), an automatic chemical spray flame-retarding system. How the heck was I supposed to compete with that?
It became apparent that this Fourth of July there was going to be a serious Grill-A-Zilla. But I had a couple of tricks of my own under my greasy, star-spangled apron.
Our rules are pretty simple. We flip a coin to determine who goes first. Judging is relatively simple. We use our own version of the Honor System. Our palate-pleasing masterpieces are always judged by His Honor, Benny Cathcart, who’s not really a judge at all, but everyone down at Kelly’s has been calling him “Hizzoner” for so long, no one can remember why.
But Benny “Hizzoner” Cathcart is well-known and respected for his discriminating taste and has the cred to prove it … sheer girth. Barney and I bribe him equally, so we assume his judging is completely impartial.
Barney won the coin toss this year and started the competition with his signature Big Bertha Brisket, named after his aunt, Bertha Brieskett. She married Barney’s uncle—Frank Brieskett (a Cajun who pronounces his name “Bree-kay”). Hizzoner, dripping Barbie’s secret barbecue sauce from his turkey-neck jowls all over his red plaid shirt that makes him look like a table in a pizza parlor, was very generous and awarded Barney three and a half stars.
Secretly, I was very pleased, remembering that last year Barney garnered four stars for his Big Bertha Brisket. I figured he was still trying to adjust to the Z-51 multi-fuel technology.
I was up next and it was my turn to show my stuff and flex my culinary muscles. I remembered Hizzoner’s weakness for anything bacon-wrapped and used it to my advantage to hopefully bag not only the Grill-A-Zilla trophy (a Home Depot spatula that we spray-painted with gold paint), but also the hundred-dollar side bet that we always had in play.
Some might call it cheating, but Hizzoner completely caved in to his carnivorous cravings when I slid my secret appetizer onto his greasy plate: a dozen sizzling bacon-wrapped Twinkies. I jumped back and took cover as he attacked them, threatening severe bodily harm to anyone who so much as cast a covetous glance.
After pulling an all-nighter prepping, marinating, tenderizing, seasoning and sautéing, I premiered my never-seen-before, totally original, Southern-fried, smoked-and-grilled, bacon-wrapped Bratwurst Belly-Buster Supreme. In my mind, I was completely justified pandering to Hizzoner’s weakness for bacon. How else was I supposed to compete against the stainless steel, natural gas, LP, charcoal and wood-burning Lightning Bolt Model Z-51 grill from China?
I will admit, however, that I did feel a little guilty when the EMTs arrived and just shook their heads as they rolled Hizzoner away on two gurneys with a half-eaten Bratwurst Belly-Buster Supreme flopped on his chest.
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Bill Rausch is a freelance writer from Little Rock. Email him at williamrausch25@ yahoo.com.