For Father’s Day, my girls made a card with a drawing of my PK charcoal grill, along with the gift of a PK Grills t-shirt and hat. My wife gave me the gift that keeps on giving… for everyone: A charcoal chimney starter and five bags of charcoal.
Why are lumps of coal the best gift in our house?
Here’s a little story for you:
The road to my hibachi hobby started with my maternal grandfather. Before I was born, my Papa retired to a farm in Central Texas. His 98 acres were my sanctuary, and he was my hero.
Not far from the farm house he built a smoker out of an old fridge. He cut a hole in the bottom, put a smokestack on top, dug a hole in the ground for the fire, and set the fridge on cinder blocks over it. Inside he smoked all kinds of meats… including his own venison sausage recipe that he took to the grave. I can close my eyes, take a deep breath, and still taste it.
Papa liked smoking meats in bulk, but for whatever reason he didn’t like grilling. He bought a PK Grill in the late 60s, but didn’t use it much. So when my parents married in 1971, he gave it to my father, because Dad’s a griller.
I’ve only known Dad to cook with fire. In old pictures, he’s working the coals. I believe with just a flame and a carcass he can make anything taste good. But I’ve only seen Dad cook on my Papa’s PK Grill.
Growing up, Saturdays were big eating days in our home: The mornings were for cartoons and Mom’s pancakes, but the evenings were for Cowboy games and grilled steaks.
Dad would fashion together a mixture of liquids and seasonings to marinate the meat, then light a pyramid pyre of coals. Once the steaks were on, he worked the PK like a musician with a fine instrument: closing the lid, adjusting vents, re-opening to turn the meat.
When grease would melt and drip onto the coals, causing flames to shoot up, he’d close the lid and say, “That’s why you cook with charcoal. It’s the only way you get good flavor.” I would wait in anticipation for him to open the lid each time because I loved the cumulonimbus smoke billows that would rise up.
Mom sautéd mushrooms and made a salad, and then we feasted. Rarely did we go out to eat and order steaks. For us, Dad’s were better than any restaurant.
Then, one day around 5th or 6th grade, my apprenticeship officially began. “Why don’t you go start the fire,” my father said.
Later he told me when to open and close the lid. Then it was when to turn the meat. At some point I graduated to him sitting and drinking a scotch and water while he watched me grill from start to finish.
I once asked my wife if she wanted to go to a fancy steak house for her birthday. “Why would I want to pay for that when you’re steaks are better than any restaurant?”
They probably aren’t, but she thinks so… and that’s all that matters.
“Daddy, your steak is better than candy,” my oldest daughter once declared while devouring dinner.
Better than candy.
If you’ve ever tried to get a six-year-old to eat dinner and not beg for sweets, you know the magnitude of that win.
I burned through my share of cheap grills before I broke down and bought a really nice Webber. Then, three years ago, my folks bought me a new PK Grill for my birthday from the resurrected company.
Recently I found and fixed up the PK my grandfather gave my dad. My parents hadn’t used it in years. It needed some cleaning, and a new grill grate, but after a little work I had it back on fire. Now I alternate back and forth between the new grill and the old one. If I have a lot to cook, I’ll fire up both. My wife wonders why I need two grills. I’m trying to convince her I need three.
Why three? Because now my daughters help me get the coals ready on the same grill their father learned to cook on from his father that he got from his father-in-law.
That’s four generations on one grill. A culinary heirloom. A flame-kissed inheritance. A barbecued birthright.
Papa’s nature and Daddy’s culture mandated love though fire and food. I have three daughters, so I need three grills to pass on to each of them, because it’s the gift that keeps on giving…
* PK Grills once sent me a couple of free beer koozies, but otherwise they don’t pay me to endorse their products. But if they did, I’d use the money to get one of those fancy grilling aprons and grill covers.