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The Alpha Grill

Growing up in Estrogen Alley with my widowed mother and two sisters, there was no man around to tell us what was manly and what wasn’t. I never gave it much thought. And my first husband, raised in the era of androgyny and feminism never cultivated his inner Iron John.

So now and then I have these moments of illumination that are, if nothing else, terrifically unexpected.

For example, a few times last year I went to a sports bar to watch Pittsburgh Steelers’ games not broadcast in our viewing area. I went willingly, but each time I did, two things struck me palpably. The first was that grown men, almost to a person, were all clad in some form of black and gold Steelers’ merch (including the grown man I was with). And the second was the sheer level of testosterone in the room. I don’t remember ever hearing such loud and frequent tenor-baritone-bass cheering.

Maybe the male equivalent would be to spend a Saturday afternoon at Anthropologie where all the surfaces are soft or sculpted or patterned and the women seem lost in a blissful haze that is closer to Zen meditation than shopping. (I was at Anthropologie’s Rockefeller Center store just last week and am even now channeling those two-handled café-au-lait mugs, those sweaters in butter yellow and sea foam green, the chenille bed jackets, the chintz chemise. . . .)

Nevertheless, the last place I expected to have a moment of machismo illumination was at Sears.

I’d gone to Sears when I began my quest to buy a gas grill to replace the deck-sized charcoal one that had fallen into a pile of tin in our back yard.

Maybe it’s because my older sister is the Grill Diva at her house—languidly turning her ginger-mango chicken pieces or coriander-scented pork—that it never occurred to me the grill, as it is conceived, built and marketed, is the intended domain of men.

Real men. Men as big as the grills themselves.

Because grills are BIG. They make a statement. I’m not sure what the statement is, but they’re saying something. Maybe, “Hey, I may not be a Dodge Ram truck, but I’m still pretty BIG. And I’m just a grill.”

Only, a grill is not just a grill.

A grill is a gender statement.

My daughter and I took a long look at all the grills at Sears, at least in part because Consumer Reports touted one there. Two salesmen stood nearby, but neither offered to help us out. They probably figured we wouldn’t know what to do with such a grill.

They would have been right. Because grills are confusing. They raise issues: gender issues, moral issues, economic issues. So—in reverse order then:

The economic issue: What makes the high-priced behemoths better than the lower-priced behemoths? Is it simply the knowledge that you’re a man who can afford to drop $1400 on something you cook your hot dogs on? Or is it because the more expensive the grill, the heavier the lid and the more masculine you are if you can actually lift the thing? (And let me tell you, I’ve got some pretty good guns, but there were grills whose lids I wouldn’t want to be lifting over and over again in the course of making dinner.)

The moral questions: The capacity of the burners is measured not in inches or centimeters, but in burgers. Some have a modest 26 burger capacity. Others go as high as 65. (65 burgers?!) Though I realize the same grill space that holds copious numbers of burgers might be taken up with Tofu Pups, chicken paillards, vegetable kebobs and skewered shrimp, using “burger capacity” as a base measurement seems awfully red-meat-oriented to me. As in real men don’t eat salmon steamed en- papillote. They eat burgers. And lots of them.

The gender issue: The grill I bought has a bottle opener. It’s not for opening cans of Fresca or bottles of Pouilly Fume. It’s for opening microbrews. Or Coronas. It’s so that the real man manning the grill can slake his thirst as he flips his burgers.

The grill I bought is a big grill—since I didn’t find any truly dainty-sized grills—and though I can turn it on and off, cook on it and clean it, it’s just too big for me to put the cover on. That’s right, either I’m too small or the cover is too big, but this is one aspect of grill-life I cannot handle unassisted.

But having done all this “I-could-be-an-AM-talk-show-radio-host ranting,” here’s the question:

Do I like my grill?

I love it.

Plus, it’s helping me channel my inner guy (which may, um, explain the ranting).

Now, as the sun edges its way west, I’ve got to start thinking about dinner. Maybe I’ll cook up a couple of three-inch thick Porterhouse steaks. I bet I could fit a full 48 chicken wings on that grill. Or at least 37 burgers. I could lay down a pair of hiking-boot-sized racks of ribs and simmer the barbecue sauce on the side burner. I could slurp down the Coronas we’ve had in the house since Christmas. Maybe I’ll even put on the man-sized apron that says: “I’ve Got Selective Listening.”

But first I’ve got to go find my husband, who is out there saving the world, to help me take off the grill cover.

—Jo Page

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