In our house, life’s day-to-day activities fall into one of two categories: “boy jobs” or “girl jobs.” The girl jobs relate to cleaning with floral-scented sprays, whereas the boy jobs are those that require a tool belt and a ladder. Changing light bulbs: boy job. Mowing the grass: boy job. Most everything else: girl job.
There are a few jobs that fall into a gray area that neither of us wants to claim—the neutral zone of household duties. Of these undesirable duties, cooking tops the list. It’s just something one of us eventually does to avoid starvation. So you can imagine my husband’s surprise when I carry two racks of spice-rubbed ribs out the back door.
Ribs require three things: a cut of meat that looks suspiciously human, a campfire and a caveman. Sure, a beautiful $500 stainless-steel capsule may contain the fire, but it’s still just a fire pit with wheels. The meat cooks on a rack coated with the charred remains of yesteryear’s hotdog. For these reasons, outdoor grilling has been clearly defined in our household as a “boy job.”
I believe that men have historically assumed the role of grill master because they are more in touch with their prehistoric roots. And unlike washing dishes or folding underwear, grilling is a process that they take pride in. When I ask my husband to throw some burgers on the grill, he’s gone for so long, you would think that I’d asked him to build an addition to the house. He spends an inordinate amount of time “setting up”—lining up the various tools needed for placing, prodding and flipping. While the meat cooks, he stands there, unmoving, as if keeping watch over his flock.
I, however, am a modern woman. I like my utensils sterilized and my food prepackaged, astronaut style. I like to push the buttons on the microwave, wait for the beep and eat. Outdoor grilling may go against my genetic makeup, but somewhere in my past, one of my female ancestors must have cooked over an open flame.
Any Neanderthal can prepare Paula’s Easy Grilled Baby Back Ribs. Pulling the membrane from the back of the ribs is tricky but that’s only because I’m not sure what the “membrane” is (I know it isn’t something I want to eat, or a word that I want stuck in my head come dinnertime). Otherwise, the rib preparation is a piece of cake. Grilling is another story.
I’m not prepared for how protective my husband is of his grill. As I near it, he looks at me with contempt, like I just used his toothbrush after eating graham crackers. “Do you even know how to light it?”
“Trust me,” I say with false confidence. I set the kitchen timer, pour myself a glass of wine and pick up a magazine. I’d even enjoy myself if it weren’t for my husband constantly repeating, “It’s burning.” At the halfway point, he threatens to check the ribs, but I stop him with the best bra-burning feminist voice I can muster: “Do it and die.”
When the timer rings, I set down my wineglass, pull on an oven mitt and saunter outside. I casually open the grill and remove my little packets of love. But when I try to unwrap the foil, it won’t give. It has fused to what was once meat, but is now a black, carcinogenic wasteland. A culinary cremation.
I feel bad for wasting $20 on ribs. I feel worse for the pig that died in vain. But most of all, I am completely annoyed by my husband’s head-banging-hip-thrusting celebratory dance, only made worse by his sing-songing “Boy job!” over and over.
Andrea Goto lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia. Her kitchen experiments (known as “cooking” in more conventional homes) most often end with a mushroom cloud of smoke or a call to Poison Control. In spite of this, she’s deeply loved by her husband who prefers neon-colored cereals to all foods homemade, and her 4-year-old daughter who will eat almost anything, as long as you call it “chicken.” Need more Andrea? Follow her at www.andreagoto.com.
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