Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, grandpas, uncles, mentors, Big Brothers, and other men who serve as role models and dispensers of bad jokes. Today I’ll be celebrating the day with my father-in-law and grandfather-in-law, two wonderful men in my life; God bless them. Of course we’ll enjoy a meal together, and the centerpiece will be something hot straight off the grill. I haven’t heard which protein it will be yet, but I doubt it’s tofu.
Though I’m not a fan of stereotypes, especially gender-based ones, the idea that men enjoy taking the helm at the grill is as deeply ingrained in our culture as the idea that all males, when they encounter a fire, must poke it with a stick. So, I can imagine there will be plenty of other family gatherings (limited to ten or fewer people, of course, with hand-washing as the most time-intensive activity) with guys standing proudly by the grill with tongs in hand and funny hat on head. To commemorate the love of the grill, here are a few fun facts about the history, science, and culture of grilling.
- In the 17th Century, the Arawak tribe on Hispaniola cooked meat over an open fire using a frame made of sticks and called it barbacoa. Of course, Spanish explorers took note and likely stole the idea along with plenty of other things (Green, 2012).
- The word barbacoa was Anglicized as “barbecue” and its first recorded use was in the book Jamaica Viewed published in 1661. Although today grilling and barbecue are different styles of cooking, “barbecue” was a term long used to refer to cooking many types of food over an open flame (Hebrew National, 2020).
- Grilling is a type of “dry heat” cooking that is appropriate for cuts of meat without a large amount of connective tissue that needs to be broken down via the application of heat and water. The types of meat that do well with grilling include seafood (all types), young poultry, pork (except hocks and thin shoulder cuts), veal roasts, comminuted products (e.g., frankfurters and bratwursts), and beef steaks from youthful animals (Aberle, Forrest, Gerrard, & Mills, 2001).
- Henry Ford created the Kingsford company to sell charcoal briquettes made from scraps of wood and sawdust from his automobile assembly lines, though the first patent for the briquettes was granted to Ellsworth B.A. Zwoyer in 1897 (Bar-S, 2018).
- The famed Weber grill was developed in the 1950’s by metalworker George Stephen when he cut a harbor buoy in half, placed a grate inside, and used the top as a lid after adding vent holes for temperature control (Food Network, 2020).
- Once mass-produced grills were readily accessible, a grilling craze swept through the U.S., and sales of meats suitable for grilling, especially hot dogs, increased. Grill-centric advertising campaigns, no doubt, could be credited for the boost in sales (Hebrew National, 2020).
- Propane grills were developed in the 1960’s by Melton Lancaster and William G. Wepfer of the Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company which made grilling more user-friendly as home grills became popular across the country (Bar-S, 2018).
- In the 1980’s, Bill Best utilized his patented infrared burners in grills, thereby cooking meat via infrared radiation. His patent expired in 2000, which led to the technology being used in more affordable grills (Green, 2012).
- The George Foreman grill was introduced in 1994 to make indoor grilling safe and easy with electric grill plates (Elliott, 2020).
- “Grilling season” can be thought of as the 15-week time frame from Memorial Day to Labor Day, both of which, along with the Fourth of July and Father’s Day, are hugely popular holidays for grilling. In 2019, the top five steaks sold, according to dollar sales, were the Ribeye Steak, Strip Steak, Tenderloin Steak, T-bone Steak, and Top Sirloin Steak (Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, 2020).
So to all the dudes out there who will be firing up the grill today, you can take pleasure knowing that you are part of a long tradition of men wearing funny hats and aprons, all striving for the satisfaction of gracing their loved ones’ tables with smoky, succulent steaks and comminuted products.
Aberle, E.D., Forrest, J.C., Gerrard, D.E., Mills, E.W. (2001). Principles of Meat Science (4th ed.).Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Bar-S (17 May, 2018). The history of the grill and barbecuing. Food for Thought. Retrieved from https://www.bar-s.com/food-for-thought/the-history-of-the-grill-and-barbecuing.
Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (15 June, 2020). Beef’s starring role in summer grilling season. Beef It’s What’s for Dinner. Retrieved from https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/retail/sales-data-shopper-insights/grilling-season-sales.
Elliott, S. (accessed 21 June 2020). Grilling history 101: who made it famous and why? How Stuff Works. Retrieved from https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/tools-and-techniques/grilling-history-101.htm.
Food Network (accessed 21 June 2020). A brief history of grilling. Food Network Kitchen. Retrieved from https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/articles/a-brief-history-of-grilling.
Green, A. (29 Aug. 2010). A brief history of the BBQ grill. Popular Mechanics. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/a7855/a-brief-history-of-the-bbq-grill-11000790/.
Hebrew National (accessed 21 June 2020). The history of grilling: how Dad came to love it. Hebrew National. Retrieved from https://www.hebrewnational.com/articles/history-grilling-how-dad-came-love-it.