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Why ‘Grilling Is Bad’ Is A Bad Hot Take


Based solely on appearance, it appears that the writer Josh Barro was born a normal human birth to normal human parents. When it comes to his Independence Day screed, “Admit It: Grilling is Bad,” one has to wonder if he’s actually a clandestine Frankenstein.

It’s really the only explanation for thoughts such as these, which he shares in his attempts to explain to Americans how to really get the party started (paywalled, but this tweet gives you the idea).

It’s almost the Fourth of July, and that means backyard barbecues. Who doesn’t like a backyard barbecue? Me, that’s who.

There’s a reason you do most of your cooking inside: Grills are impossible to keep clean, they lack good temperature control, and they make worse food than what you can prepare in your kitchen.

So I have a suggestion for this July Fourth: Celebrate American prosperity with your fine kitchen appliances and make the food for the cookout indoors.

Barro’s thesis rests on four points: Your grill is filthy, your grill has poor temperature control, grills have the heating element under the food, which is stupid, and you secretly agree with [him] about grilling. While the most obvious refutation of all four points is “Okay, so you don’t know how to grill. I could help you learn.,” Twitter has taken care of that argument. And there is a kernel of truth to his points, but his thesis is nonetheless ridiculous.

As we at The Federalist are here to help, let’s actually break down his arguments and look at all the things he gets wrong. Don’t worry, this won’t take long.

For starters, dirty grills can be a problem, particularly if you’re a mild germaphobe, as Barro might be. Fortunately, there are a variety of products available to tackle those grilled on messes, from sprays to wipes to brushes. Conversely, you can do what Barro says you do — “turn the heat up high, you scrub the grates with a brush so some soot falls into the fire, and you call it clean” — because the ghosts of meats past are just your house seasoning. Plus, the fire will baptize any lingering germs.

Second, maybe? Every grill, like every woman, is a tad different. Sure, the steps to getting them going are fairly similar, but maybe this spot on this grill is a little hotter than that spot on another grill. Pay attention, listen, and you’ll be fine. And regardless, once they’re going, they’re going to retain a more consistent temperature than whatever oven you’re using will.

Third, contra Frankenbarro, fire is good. When you’re flipping your meats and vegetables, you often want a little bit of flame to creep up and kiss your foods. It reconnects you with your caveman spirit. It smells good. Burger King, which uses a broiler, which Barro is admittedly cool with, built a whole business model around fire.

Did Prometheus damn himself to an eternity of having his liver eaten by an eagle every single day to deliver us an oven? Hell no! And while very few of us worship Greek deities these days, we should still honor him by using his gift to cook animals that were most likely not Zeus hanging out in another form.

Finally, there’s the whole “you secretly agree with him” thing, which is obviously not true, though he frames it in a way that makes it seem to be:

Perhaps I am the minority when it comes to special occasions like July Fourth, but what about the rest of the year? You may talk a good game about how you like to grill, but where do you do most of your cooking? Almost surely in the kitchen, where cooking is easier and cleaner and produces more consistent results.

Your real preference is the same as my preference — for modernity, for sanitation, and for meat cooked to the correct temperature. So stop pretending!

Speak for yourself, buddy. You want to know the best thing about working remotely, besides fewer rules regarding pants, particularly the wearing of pants? It’s being able to grill basically anytime. You can get up in the morning and throw some chicken in some marinade. By lunch, you’re ready to hop off a Zoom and fire up the grill.

It’s here where I reveal myself to be a heretic: I mainly use a gas grill, which seems to be the only version on Barro’s radar. While not charcoal, gas grills do serve a purpose. One of those purposes is firing it up and grilling some chicken for lunch. You can even throw a foil pack of wood chips in there for actual smoke.

If you’re actually looking to dominate, though, you’ll use charcoal. And not just any charcoal, but fancy lump charcoal, the kind that is irregularly shaped and is slightly more difficult to get going, at least if you haven’t bothered to invest in a chimney.

From there, it’s really pretty simple and much more hands-on than the oven. For chicken, you want to flip frequently so the juices keep dripping back down into the meat instead of onto your flame. (Now you know why rotisserie chicken is so tasty.) For steaks, you want to flip less, though you might also want to start with a repurposed jet engine and a cast iron pan and just finish on the grill.

For everything else, from sea bass to peppers to onions to ice cream, just listen to your heart, but also trust your eyes. Carbon may be our friend, but there are limits.

Whether Independence Day or just a random Thursday, grilling is good. It offers a chance to connect with friends and discuss stuff. It allows us to celebrate the environment in our own way. It can serve as family time for those of us with lots of daughters. Most important, grilled foods are the most delicious foods. There’s a reason that grilling is associated with special occasions.

So, get out there, fire up your grill, maybe knock some of the house seasoning blend off the grates, throw down some meats, and make Independence Day great again. For while things are bleak, this is still America and in America, we go big or go home. Barro has made his choice, but you don’t have to choose the same.