The snow is quietly slipping away.  It is kind of like a guest who has overstayed.  We enjoyed the novelty of the first captivating conversations covering the unraked leaves, but as the season progressed, the humor of the frosty visitor started to wear thin.  The same jokes over and over were not so funny anymore.  The snowy discourses were in fact boring, punctuated by hard labor, trying to get rid of the stuff.  Finally, in the midst of a vicious cold snap, we began to feel a hostile edge to the conversations.  Sometimes our guest was funny, but he just would not give us any space.

Now he is leaving and I can begin.  It is not that he would not have been welcome to join us.  It is just that when he was around, it was hard to — barbecue!

Our ancient Weber Kettle sits outside under the rain gutter on the south side of the porch.  It is parked there because a long time ago I gave up on igniting charcoal with starting fluid and went to a starter that looks like a refugee from an electric oven. Most times this is an ideal location, except when you try to get a good blaze going in a rainstorm. By eliminating the fluid soaked charcoal, I also avoid the petroleum taste in hamburgers and shish kabobs.

The Weber has become a family heirloom.  It has moved with us several times.  We got it from Harley Urbatsch in a little hardware store in Forest City, Iowa. You remember the kind, with wooden floors, scuffed by thousands of feet shuffling in and out.  Stuff was hanging everywhere, usually half way up the wall and from a single display counter that ran down the center of the narrow store. The coffee was always on behind the cash register, and it was high octane.

I had tried a series of hibachis and cheap little three legged barbecues that inevitably disintegrated. So with a lightened wallet, we invested sixty bucks in the shiny black kettle.  For that, it was delivered one stormy spring night by Harley junior at 9:30 after the Hardware Hank freight had come. You will not find Wal-Mart doing that!

I never clean it. Sometimes it has even caught fire. Other times I have had to stand on the little metal rack on the bottom in order to pull off the grease-laden lid.

Some folks prefer the quick convenience and easy cleaning of a gas grill.  The fake charcoal leaves a bland taste. I am also afraid I will blow myself up trying to start it.

When the fire in the kettle really gets going, you can cook anything.  Tending it however, is a little like watching a fire in a wood burning fireplace. It is an intuitive process, opening and closing the vents on the top and bottom of the cooker. There are failures and successes, incinerated hamburgers indistinguishable from charcoal or succulent thick cut pork chops that melt in your mouth.

Smoke generated by the cooking process has a way of finding its way to places you do not intend, like the neighbors sheets on the line outside or through the back door into the house, which usually sets off the smoke alarm. Fortunately, it is not direct wired to the fire station!

Winter is beginning to fade. I can see the top of the picnic table and the driveway does not seem to be five feet in the air. It is time to move the charcoal from the garage to the back porch.

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