It's a monster. It rests patiently and silently all the long winter in a corner of the windowless shed at the bottom of the garden under a corrugated cement-sheeting roof and a layer of dust. Then spring arrives and it comes out and I dust it off by hosing it down, like an elephant at the zoo. It is made from cast iron and it weighs either a ton or a tonne, the French version. Who knows? It's heavy.
But it is humble. My barbecue has none of those things that copywriters call 'features'. It has no side burners, no cabinet, no window, no quartz ignition, no batteries, no warming rack and no rotisserie, motorised or not. It has no wok feature, no built-in lighting, no flame-tamer and no fancy name like Tuscany or Renaissance GrillPro. I couldn't bring myself to cook on a barbecue called Tuscany. It would just be too ridiculously pretentious, like wearing an apron and a chef's hat while you grill for your guests. If they must give barbecues names, why don't they give them realistic ones? Who wouldn't be happy to buy a Sausage King?
My barbecue has no one-touch thermometer and no mirror finish. It has no door, and no logo. However, it does have a rack on each side of the grill - one for not cooked yet and one for just cooked before being transferred to table - and one underneath for other things such as your book, a football or a saucepan full of chopped onions. On each side of the outer grill pan base there are cast iron hooks to hang tongs and the cast iron dust pan. Two of the four legs have castors. The brake on one of these has seized, so that when you pick up the leg end of the whole thing and try to push it, it kind of goes around in circles, like a supermarket trolley. I don't mind. Once in position, it stays put for the whole summer, and well into autumn, before I creak it off again into its dark corner. This is its tenth year.
It's easy to cook on. You just heave off the cover - a large oblong piece of cast iron with a welded loop handle that could double as a knight's shield, but it would have to be a strong knight - and stand it against the fence. Don't let the children near it. Then you you lift the grill rack off. Cleaning this is easy. I just drop it flat on the concrete. Crash! Then I sweep away the shards of carbon, set it back on the grill pan and it's right to go.
Before I do that, I load it up with fuel. I used to buy coal but I've started using charcoal because it lasts longer. A firelighter or two, set a match to it and go away for half an hour to make a salad or have a drink or take a shower or go to the supermarket for some tonic water. Meanwhile, there's a nice flame and soon that dies away to a mountain of soft, innocent, grey-powdered coals that packs many hundred degrees of heat.
I usually start off, just after the sun has sunk below next door's roof line and the birds have started their raucous cocktail hour in the trees in the street, by tearing a bunch of the permanent herbs out of the old double trough against the shed and throwing them into the air and onto the grill, like a Matthew Lloyd goal rite to see which way the wind's blowing. Does anyone still do that? The aroma of fresh sage, lemon thyme, mint, and oregano helps build your appetite and gives some flavour to whatever you throw on top of the herbs, like a large piece of scotch fillet, for example. See previous post.
There's a whole summer of this ahead. Happy tenth birthday, nameless barbecue.
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound