When I was married, my partner and I had a clear delineation of chores: He handled the outside world and I handled the inside. This meant I cooked meals for the family, until one Father’s Day, when I bought him (us) a gas grill. Suddenly, I didn’t have to cook dinner every summer night. I still did the grocery shopping and prepped the food, but he was the one who had to tend the grill while I relaxed (aka parented our two small children).
I knew that grilling couldn’t be too hard. If you can drink a beer and chat with your friends and still manage not to poison your guests, it can’t be rocket science. But I had learned helplessness regarding the grill. If I never learned how it worked or even how to turn it on, I never had to take on one more household task.
When we divorced, we didn’t fight over who got what in terms of objects in the house. I got the majority of the kitchen stuff since I actually knew how to use it, and, likewise, he had the first pick of the outdoor gear. He took the grill and I didn’t miss it.
I hardly cooked at all in the first couple years following my divorce; I didn’t have much of an appetite due to stress. Sometimes people brought me food. I never much felt like making my own dinner after making meals for my (very particular) children, so I often settled for cheese and crackers or their leftovers. Less cooking meant less cleaning up, which suited me in my overworked state.
Then I had a conversation that would change my life. I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law with a boyfriend and I noticed they had the same grill I used to own. I watched my brother-in-law make burgers and thought, I can do that. After all, I’d already learned how to do many new things in the two years since my divorce.
The boyfriend tried to dissuade me, saying I could just come over to his house, where his identical grill lived, and eat food he’d cook for me. When he dumped me the next day—confusing, given the grill convo—I bought the grill for myself as a birthday present (yes, he did break up with me the week of my birthday).
I listened to Glennon Doyle and Brené Brown podcasts to psych myself up while I assembled the grill, concerned I would do it wrong and blow up my deck. I didn’t. I rolled it outside, correctly hooked up the propane, and flipped through the manual, deciding on the inaugural dish. I would grill something easy, something just for me. The manual had instructions for how hot to set the grill, how long to cook various meats and veggies, and the internal temperature meat should reach so it’s safe to eat. That’s it? That’s the extent of what grilling is? Yep. It’s that easy.
The first thing I made was a batch of cheeseburgers. One out of two children tried them. They were great. I didn’t do anything fancy; I didn’t spend hours chopping and marinating. I did almost no recipe research. I went on to make chicken, steak, corn on the cob, and grilled veggies, among other experiments. I noticed that in the warmer months I was motivated to eat more complex, nutritive meals, featuring lean meats (prepared without a lot of oil) and lots of veggies, which I do generally like but which tasted even better cooked over a flame. Everything turned out super, so long as I followed the rules of the grill.
Now, like anything, you can complicate things if you want to. There are people who compose masterpieces on their grill grates, spend hours on the perfect blend of spices, and claim that it takes a certain innate finesse to succeed at becoming a true grill master. I call male BS. You start the grill. Let it heat. Put the food on it. Set a timer (probably five minutes). Beep. Flip. Beep. Check temp. Repeat as necessary. Serve. Eat. There are no pots and pans to scour afterwards. Just brush the grill (highly satisfying) and wash the dishes.
I shouldn’t feel so accomplished for conquering something so easy, but perhaps realizing how simple it can be is the accomplishment in itself. There are enough areas of life that require the aid of another person or a special set of skills to achieve. With grilling, victory came with realizing that I just needed to read the manual and do it myself.