COLUMN: Barbecue burnout a constant threat

Outdoor culinary misadventures shorten the lives of reporter's barbecues.

They say you can die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.

Our barbecues live short lives, but never die heroically.

It’s hard to say what kills them faster, our humid climate or my culinary misadventures.

I’ll let my wife take some blame for their untimely demises.

In winter we keep whatever barbecue we happen to be tormenting that year on our back porch, which is covered. Barbecues are built from aluminum and stainless steel, which don’t corrode easily with reasonable care. Just keep the rain off and they’ll last for years, but my wife insists on buying those barbecue covers made from faux leather with a soft backing. It won’t scratch the finish, but it’s perfect for trapping humidity. Given the right mix of moisture and oxygen, electrolysis sets in and the following spring you pull off the cover to discover a mass of white and brown corrosion shaped like what last year was your barbecue – sometimes with the remains of some vermin’s nest inside.

One year my mother in law, who lives next door, bought a new barbecue for herself, plus one for my wife and me for our birthdays, which fall a few days apart. That summer we hosted a party requiring two barbecues. I loaded hers into my truck thinking I’m only going next door, so why bother tying it down? I’ll just drive really slow. My rear view mirror provided a stunning view of her new barbecue summersaulting out of the back of the truck as it lurched through the pothole I forgot about in our driveway. My stepson witnessed the performance and has never let me live it down.

I repaired the barbecue’s smashed control panel – some of my finest refinishing work ever – and with the two sturdy lawnmower wheels I bought to replace the flimsy originals that exploded into plastic shrapnel on impact, I figure it went home a better product than when I borrowed it. She still has it. I don’t think she has one of those covers.

Our last barbecue retired early from corrosion and artery-clogging hamburger grease that ignited and engulfed it in a blazing conflagration one night. It still worked after that episode. The following summer, after wintering wounded under its cover and corroding some more, I cleaned it up and put it out on it’s little concrete pad near the cherry trees behind the big tent we set up for the kids to backyard camp in.

I was busy getting something ready for a party so a friend offered to fire it up to preheat it. Seconds later my friend, Ron Lambert, Nanaimo’s fire chief, emerged from behind the tent with the hair that hadn’t been singed off his forearm still smoldering and told me how it shot a five foot long tongue of flame at him from under its control panel.

The unit we replaced it with suffered its baptism of fire the night of my wife’s birthday party when I discovered “lean hamburger” is really a relative term. It was the second batch of patties that supplied the critical mass of fat triggering what I could best describe as my personal backyard Chernobyl. I only turned away for a few seconds to hand my wife a glass of wine when I heard the sizzle of flaming grease and ticks of expanding metal from the apocalyptic fireball erupting from under its lid.

Once I got the fire out the hamburgers weren’t that bad, actually. They were just blacker and skittered around the serving platter a bit more than usual. Everyone said how impressed they were – given what appeared to be a genuine risk of a propane explosion – with how calmly I walked over, turned the burners off one by one and brought the inferno to heel.

Last month I finally got around to replacing the lid handle that melted off.