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An Ode to the Idylls of the 4th. (OR: To write or to barbecue…)

An Ode to the Idylls of the 4th. (OR: To write or to barbecue…)

That is the question. Whether tis nobler to entertain one’s friends on the Bayou, or to take to the keyboard against a sea of blank pages and, by opposing, fill them.

I found myself in a very interesting dilemma on Thursday. At work (I am production manager and designer for a sign company), my employer decided that he wanted an extra day off…a mini-vacation of sorts, built by adding Friday to the three day weekend. So with four days off, my head began to swim with images of seven chapters completed in my new novel or reading endlessly. Maybe I would clean out the garage and flea-dip the cats. (Puncture wounds hurt, by the way, and get quickly infected.)

Or, I could take part of my bonus from the most recent major project and do what any self-respecting southern man with a large house, a bayou, and a grill would do: throw a party.

There is nothing in the rule book that says the two are mutually exclusive. So I spent part of Friday and most of today preparing and executing a flawless barbecue.

There’s a certain art to a good ol’ southern cookout. It’s not about what goes in baked beans (Worchestershire sauce is the secret, with about two table-spoons of mustard), or how much garlic to add to the hamburgers. Regardless if you’re a modernist and demand that all beef must be extra lean ground round, a purist who wants only ground chuck, or a fusion artist (like me) who mixes the two, the answer lies in something far more simple, yet infinitely more complex than mere ingredients: food order.

The rules for the perfect barbecue are complex…that’s why it is an art. Everyone has their own special way of preparing steaks. Maybe lemon pepper goes on or they use a marinade while they cook it. But the average cookout very rarely gives any thought to that most basic of questions: when to cook what. In that essence, barbecues are very similar to marriages.

Baked beans are the kids in any marriage. Put them on too early and they harden and aren’t any good. Too late, and you’re forced to spoil them with extra sugar and then more salt. But if you put them into the oven at just the right time (about an hour and a half before food time) and with the perfect ingredients (use name-brand mustard for the best results), presto! Perfect baked beans–ready just as the first burger is coming off the grill.

In building a successful barbecue, you have to remember something: transportation. Early marriages live or die by the couple’s ability to get where they want to go and get there dependably. Now, most married couples can’t afford to go out and buy matching BMW X4’s. However, they can afford, with careful planning, really dependable starter cars. In your barbecue, your starter car is the sausage. If you don’t get enough, people fight over it. If you get too much, they gorge themselves and end up not getting to the end of the evening. If the andouile is too bland, people won’t eat it and it’ll go to waste. (They’ll also take bad sausage as a hint of things to come and expressly not eat anything else you cook.) If the andouile is too spicy, they’ll drink too much and pass out before dessert. So selecting something that everyone can eat, can enjoy, and will make them wanting more is perhaps the most critical part of planning. Take your time with this step. (And try Savoie’s Andouile. Available at any Wal-Mart in America.)

Next, you’ll want to examine your guest list. Two things simply must be prepared–and in the right order–for a successful cookout: hamburgers and hotdogs. We’ve already address hamburgers, but what of the oft-overlooked hotdog? Sure you’ll want to fix them both. But what if people eat one and not the other? The answer is simple. And it too comes from a lesson learned in marriage. Husband and wife go to restauarant. They commence to discuss what each will order. Finally, the husband turns to the wife and says, “What do you want me to order.” A silly question, given that it is the man who will have to eat his own dinner. The wife, not surprised, says “You should order the Veal Scalopini. That way, I can order the Manicotti and try some of yours.” Hint: Hot dogs are cheap. Fix both. And fix them at the same time. Use Nathan’s Famous Brand. (Also available at your friendly, neighborhood Supercenter.)

All marriages that I know of seem to find their crowning glory later in life. The kids are all either in college or out of it, they’ve paid the house off and are considering retirement. Just as the party of their life is winding down, they get a second wind. And my what a beautiful thing it is to see them dancing the night away between the tables of your local fish-n-chips. Like any good marriage, barbecues have their twilight. For those who stick around (and those who show up fashionably late), there is steak. Yes, the last thing you want to cook is the steaks. Not only will your stragglers and slow-eaters be pleased, the grill will be so perfectly seasoned with the flavors of andouile and hamburgers and Nathan’s all-beef franks that you won’t have to do very much to produce a good steak. Let the meat do all of the work for you.

Take these tidbits of wisdom and enjoy a safe and happy July Fourth.