Grilling

New York Press' Gut Instinct: Iced, Iced Baby

Another happy fan of Smirnoff Ice!

Here's how I know I’m getting older: Past springs and summers in New York, my pulse would quicken at a flash of leg, a low-cut blouse, shorts cut to a cheek—lust stoked after a long winter hibernation.

These days, bosoms and behinds provide fewer heart palpitations. Instead, I ache for a lush green lawn. It needn’t be much, perhaps 50 or 60 square feet, space to plant a garden, let my pooch freely pee and, most crucially, store a grill.

The irony is that my brownstone possesses a postcard-perfect backyard. Problem is, I live on the third floor. Backyard access is through a basement, where our nice neighbor repairs computers while wearing pajamas. Much like an inmate clutching a prison fence and eyeballing the freedom beyond, I stare wistfully at the wooded backyard, envisioning plumes of grill smoke climbing to the clouds.

“So why don’t we put a grill in the front patio?” my downstairs neighbor Meghan suggested. Patio might be a generous statement. More accurate might be: fenced-in slab of concrete ringed by trash cans, a stoop and a leafy tree that towers above our building. In its gritty way, the patio’s an urban paradise—provided you don’t mind the occasional maggot slithering from a trashcan.

“How will we prevent people from stealing it?” I asked. Our block is littered with the corpses of stripped bikes left to rust and disintegrate. Surely a blackened grill has some black-market value.

“Big lock,” Meghan replied in a snap.

Sold. The first ’cue met with smoky, meaty success, thanks to Trader Joe’s. The discount grocer is a cheapskate’s dream, stocked with jalapeño-spiked chicken sausages for $3.50 and six-packs of sublime ales for $6.99. (Trust me on the grandeur of the gloriously hopped, craft-quality Mission Street Pale Ale and IPA. Though the label doesn’t admit it, they’re brewed by California’s award-winning Firestone Walker.)

“You’re finally the master of your own grill,” my girlfriend said, wiping a blackened smudge off my grinning mug.

Indeed. One of the lesser acknowledged glories of being a grill master is dictating what’s brought to a barbecue. Need some sweet, buttery Martin’s potato rolls? Coming right up! Bring me Hebrew National frankfurters, stat! Of course, my most common request is beer. The combination of nitrite-laden wieners and 85-degree heats means even the best-stocked ice chest quickly succumbs to guests’ unslakable thirst.

It was a truism driven home last Saturday, when we held a last-minute bash. Other friends were supposed to hold their own grill-fest, but they wilted under the 50 percent threat of thunderstorms. Naturally, skies were Smurf-blue, continuing forecasters’ month-long losing streak. (Seriously, weren’t we supposed to have two straight weeks of thunderstorms that never struck?) Sausages and bratwursts were cooked till as fat and taut as Restylane-plumped lips. Utz chips were devoured. Beer disappeared. I requested reinforcements. My friend Sam left, returning bearing a black plastic bag. Inside sat a six-pack of Miller Genuine Draft, one of my least favorite beers. It’s rich and metallic, like sucking on pennies soaked in margarine. “Uh, thanks,” I said, in the manner of children who receive underwear for Christmas. “Damn—I knew I was right,” Sam said. “You like Coors Light.”

It is no lie: I do adore Coors Light.

Though I’m a craft-beer acolyte, when the mercury crests 85 degrees, I love chugging this lightly alcoholic seltzer. Sure, Coors Light is mass-produced and about as flavorful as tap water, but there are times when quantity trumps quality. But in the absence of Coors Light, I took an MGD anyway. When beer is free, I’m not a picky man.

My friend Ben also held a black bag.

I peeked inside. “My god, Ben,” I said, shaking my head like a disappointed parent. He’d bought Smirnoff Ice, an alco-pop that tastes like a sugary, artificially fruit-flavored hangover.

“I’m going to Ice Sam,” he said. His words saddened me a great deal.

For the uninitiated, Icing is an Internet meme come to real life. Basically, you present an unsuspecting sap with a Smirnoff Ice, and they’re forced to drop to one knee and chug it. It’s ironic to the point of excess—which is the point, I guess. But sometimes, irony and idiocy are one and the same. Sam was Iced, the cloudy liquid going down his gullet as if he were attempting to drink oatmeal. Ben turned to me, a malicious glint in his glazed eyes.

“If you want another hot dog,” I said, throwing wieners atop the hot coals, “you won’t ice the grill master.”

Read—and vote for—the original story at New York Press' website.

Gut Instinct: Kiel-ing Her Softly

There’s something genuinely appealing about smacking my sweetie with a length of processed pig.

“You’re really enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” my girlfriend asks. Much to the amusement of passing Greenpoint grandmas, I’m pummeling her patootie with paper-wrapped sausage.

“Other women would die to be smacked with three pounds of such delicious kielbasa,” I counter, spanking her rump once more—a love tap, if you may.

“Hitting my ass with meat will not make me give up vegetarianism.”

“A man can try, can’t he?”

“No.”

“Perhaps I just need a bigger kielbasa,” I say. Lord knows I could return to Steve’s Meat Market (104 Nassau Avenue betw. Leonard & Eckford Sts, 718-383-1780; B’klyn) and score a larger sausage. Since before Watergate, Steve’s has cranked out massive lengths of house-smoked, all-pork kielbasa. Unlike other surly Greenpoint butchers, Steve’s men are patient. They’re happy to decipher the dozen-odd kielbasas spelled with a jumble of z’s, c’s and the occasional w. My minutes-earlier experience was indicative of their demeanor.

“How can I help you, sir?” queries the white-capped butcher as I step to the counter. He’s wearing a red T-shirt emblazoned with kielbasa power. It features an egg-shaped sausage possessing skinny legs and bulging, ’roid-rage arms.

“Something for the grill,” I say, licking my wind-cracked lips.

He ponders the plastic pig on the counter and then grabs a couple coils of firm, lightly smoky and lusciously fatty podwawelska ($3.75 a pound). “This will cook juicy and crispy,” he says.

“The grill thanks you,” I say, cradling the waxy package like a newborn. Following the ass affair, my girlfriend and I bike to our pal Angela’s Williamsburg abode. She’s turning 30. To celebrate, the ex-cheerleader-turned-advertising vice president is hosting a block party behind the BQE. There’s beer, a booming sound system and a Hibachi.

“Can I be grill master?” I ask Angela, as excited as a politician near a prostitute. Short of devouring dumplings while receiving a hummer, nothing makes me giddier than grilling. Perhaps it’s control; being responsible for folks’ feeding is as intoxicating as the scent of sizzling flesh. However, I chalk it up to the madeleine effect: Grilling transports me to my greasy Ohio childhood.

After my elementary school’s final bell rang, I’d hustle home and fire up the family gas grill—my urges were fueled by equal parts pyromania and hunger. My chosen meal was a snappy Hebrew National frank or a homemade hamburger patty. Each hot bite brought me a happiness I’d be hard-pressed to match until I discovered beer.

Angela understands my grill glee. “Fire it up,” she says, pointing me toward charcoal. I stack a pitch-black pyramid and toss a lit match. Flames relent to a measured burn. In celebration I crack a creamy and hoppy Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. Because the Michigan brewery doesn’t distribute to New York, I demand any visiting Midwestern friends bring me a six-pack or, if they care to crash on my couch instead of the unmopped floor, a case. My last visitors wisely bequeathed a case.

“Are you OK?” my girlfriend asks, checking on me.

“Am I doing OK? It’s meat time,” I say, grinning toothily. I bend the kielbasa into a smiley face and hoist it to mine. She covers her ass and shuffles away, shaking her head and likely wondering: What past-life crime did I commit to deserve him?

Free of womanly influence, I spend several hours tending the glowing grill. With a scientist’s locked-in focus, I cook kielbasa, burgers and hot dogs to charred perfection. Partygoers rush over, hands grabbing, mouths chewing. Soon, bellies are ballooned. Coals have cooled. It’s time for dessert: cans of Coors Light and cornhole. This does not entail group sodomy, an act for which I’ve never developed a knack. Cornhole is a Midwestern leisure sport. Two raised platforms containing a circular hole are set 33 feet apart. Participants take turns trying to toss square beanbags into the hole.

“It’s more of an excuse to drink,” I explain to my girlfriend, like tailgating or days of the week ending in Y.

“And you’ve played cornhole?’ my girlfriend asks, as incredulous as if I said I wrestled raccoons.

“Do dogs like to hump legs?”

“The more I learn about you and Ohio, the less I understand,” my girlfriend says.

“We’re both a four-letter word for a good reason,” I say, grabbing a fistful of beanbags and tossing them high into the air, aiming for that dark, shallow hole.

Gut Instinct: Nice to Meat You

Rummage through my dresser drawer’s crumpled sweatshirts and faded, crotch-frayed jeans, and you’ll find a sparkly fabric rectangle that I affectionately call my “meat flag.”

It displays a picture of me grinning with serial-killer glee, hoisting taut, pink kielbasa above my head like a trophy—a picture taken seconds before I swung the greasy lengths like nunchaku onto a glowing-red grill.

“Grilling might be the only time you’re truly happy,” my girlfriend says.

“Except when I’m drunk,” I add.

Sweet lollipops, I love to grill. Invite me to your barbecue and I’ll liberate spatulas from lesser men and dole out my medium-rare rapture. The secret is grade-A meat, a mixture of deliciousness and minimum expenditure that requires a field trip to distant Brooklyn. For my Memorial Day weekend provisionary run, I enlist my pedaling pal Aaron.

“We’re heading to meat heaven,” I say, as we aim toward the Atlantic Ocean. “But first, we must snack.” Upon entering Russian Brighton Beach, we pit stop at M&I International (249 Brighton Beach Ave. betw. Brighton 1st St. & Brighton 1st Pl., B’klyn; 718-615-1011). M&I’s a bastion of smoked fish, pickled vegetables and pierozki ($1.25 apiece). They’re deep-fried oblong pies packed with cabbage, potatoes or “meat.” Which meat?

“Meat,” says a thick woman wearing a hairnet, manning the sidewalk-ordering window.

“Delicious,” I say, as she fills a plastic bag with pies. We bring them to the boardwalk.

“Should they be so…greasy?” Aaron asks. Oil drips onto wooden planks.

“Just eat,” I say, as we chomp in unison.

“It’s dessert and dinner all in one,” Aaron proclaims—funnel cake with a meat chaser.

“And you’re complaining?”

“Not at all,” he says, fingers glistening in the sun.

Covered with a greasy sheen, we continue our trek to my grilling secret: Coney Island’s Major Prime Meat Market (1516 Mermaid Ave. betw. W. 15th & W. 16th Sts, B’klyn, 718-372-8091). I first found Major four summers prior when, following a lobster-red beach afternoon, I stumbled into the sawdust-strewn shop. I was intrigued by Major’s shop window filled with vintage Coney photos, but my heart swooned for silver-haired proprietor Jimmy Prince, a fixture since 1949.

“You looking for a steak?” he asked, immaculate in a button-down and tie.

I was.

“I’ll be right back.” He sliced me a hefty sirloin beaut, marbled with marvelous fat.

“Cook it right, and you won’t find a finer steak,” he said.

I did. He was right. I’ve returned to Major again and again, whenever my meat lust demanded satiation. Like today.

“I’ll be with you in a moment, fellas,” Prince says, as we swing inside. Prince smiles—he’s always smiling—and shuffles into his walk-in cooler, where his meat (prime only, thank you) dry-ages and develops a dense, concentrated flavor. We sway to big-band music and examine canned goods and produce until Prince reappears, hands on hips.

“I need burgers,” I announce.

“We can do that,” Prince says. He lugs an antiquated grinder into the walk-in. He returns with a fat, red lump of fresh-ground beef, which he hand-stamps into patties with a steel contraption. He displays the thick, third-pound patty like a parent proud of his son’s straight-A report card.

“That’s beautiful,” I say, nearly choking up. I want to hug him. He’s the butchering grandpa I never had and never knew I needed.

“I only use prime chuck. It’s the perfect mix for juicy burgers.”

“Ten, please,” I say, wiping away a drop of drool. Prince grinds and presses, presses and grinds, and passes us our patties (about $4 a pound). They’re separated by wax paper and placed into brown paper bags, lovingly folded like a child’s school lunch.

“Have a safe ride, fellas,” Prince says paternally, as we head to the burgers’ final destination: Bushwick Country Club (618 Grand St. at Leonard St., B’klyn, 718-388-2114). This Williamsburg dive offers two-for-one happy hour (until 8 p.m.), a six-course miniature golf course and grills.

They’re hot. They’re primed. They sizzle as I gently lob my patties onto the grill, like I’m launching the world’s costliest Frisbee. I let grill stripes accrue, then I flip the burgers—just once, and no pressing out precious moisture. Their smoke is a Siren’s lure.“Can I have one?” a random bar-goer queries.

“Of course not,” I reply, sliding burger onto bun, a juicy torrent staining the white bread brown. Ketchup? Mustard? No need. I bite, and rich, mineral-y, meaty goodness gushes over my chipped incisors and craggy mandibles. Grill season, I think, as I cram my maw with flesh tender and flavorful enough to convert a vegetarian, has officially begun.