The Burger Meister | NCPR News

The Burger Meister |  NCPR News

You gotta watch closely to make sure they don’t slip between the grates. Photo: Mitch Teich

We’re just back from a week in the Finger Lakes with friends and relatives of friends. At least I’m pretty sure they were relative of friends. All told, there were 18 of us, and with that many people around, it was kind of hard to keep track.

It was actually just the right sort of a week in the Finger Lakes. We were split among three houses, and everyone was, more or less, free to do their own thing. If you wanted to play frisbee in three feet of lake water for an hour, that was cool. If you wanted to drink coffee and read a novel or work on a jigsaw puzzle, so be it. If you wanted to stand on a dock in the dark and go fishing, no one questioned you. My son did plenty of fishing in the dark.

The only exception to the rule was dinner time. Each family unit was responsible for making dinner for the entire contingent one evening, and attendance was rigor. Each group strategized โ€“ sometimes for days โ€“ on how to feed 18 people and generally keep them happy. We were assigned Wednesday’s dinner.

It had been a while since my wife and I had made plans to feed 18 people. The last time was probably 22 years ago, and we hired a caterer, since it was our wedding. Most of the time, we feed four of us around the house, a situation that occasionally involves grazing through the cabinets and debating the wisdom of Frosted Mini-Wheats as a dinner option.

Given that others had made pork tenderloin and other fancy-schmancy meals, cereal wasn’t going to cut it, so we claimed โ€œburgers and bratwurst nightโ€ as our own. Accompanying the meal would be a quinoa salad, corn on the cob, watermelon, and two homemade desserts โ€“ a Finnish midsummer cake and a chocolate lasagna. My wife dealt with the quinoa salad, the corn, and the watermelon, my daughter took on the Finnish cake, and my son made the chocolate lasagna.

As the Census Bureau’s designated Male Head of Household, I was assigned to grill stuff. American men are supposed to know how to grill things. We are expected to acquire large quantities of meat and apply marinades and seasonings and sauces, and use heavily pronged implements to flip them over, as the hickory-fed flames jump high into the backyard atmosphere.

As much as I enjoy stacking charcoal and wood chips and going through an entire box of matches in an hours-long effort to heat them up, we own a propane grill, which includes the following heat settings:

Fortunately, the grill at our rental house had exactly the same settings, so I felt confident that I could heat the burgers and brats up in such a manner that they would be at least marginally edible. The only decisions left to make were โ€œHow many burgers, and how many brats?โ€ My wife and I spent a while in the meat section of the grocery store and โ€“ using our best catering judgment โ€“ โ€‹โ€‹decided the answer was โ€œmany.โ€

So Wednesday evening came along. The quinoa salad was ready. The 18 ears of corn were going in multiple pots on the stove. The desserts were chilling in the freezer. Various people were consuming various forms of alcohol, which would hopefully distract them from the fact that I had just figured out that the back burner on the house’s grill had a special bonus setting: room temperature.

However, mustering all the American maleness I could manage, I shuttled the various meats from one part of the grill to another, and eventually the burgers and brats achieved a level of doneness I would best describe as โ€œgood enough.โ€

By the end of the night, everyone had survived, and left the gathering with the most satisfying aftertaste of my kids’ desserts. We had a lot of quinoa salad to bring back to the North Country with us, which I plan to get to, right after I finish this bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats.




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