Sometimes talk about community-building can be so serious. And, yes, often it is a serious business: if you’re trying to resurrect a town’s ailing economy, say, or fighting neighborhood crime, or cleaning up after a disaster… But sometimes the things that really bring us together, that make us feel connected to the people around us and to the place we live—well, sometimes, they’re a little more fun than that (fortunately!). Sometimes, they’re… barbecue.
Just in time for the Memorial Day holiday, I thought I’d write a little homage to the beautiful community togetherness that is the neighborhood BBQ. Now, in small town New England where I live, we’re just entering into the grilling season. The first gorgeous, warm Saturday afternoon of the spring brought the scent of charcoal wafting across many a backyard in my part of town. Now, I know in some places in the U.S., barbecue IS a serious business, as enjoyable as it is. Sauce recipes are held as ancestral secrets, and regional arguments are held over the wisdom of a tomato or a vinegar base. Hours are spent waiting for smoke to work its magic. It’s pits versus propane, brisket versus burgers. I admit: I love it all, but what I’m talking about here is a more casual affair. It’s a cold-bottle-of-beer-while-you-cook hot dog and burger scenario, the occasional fancy chicken sausage thrown in for good measure. And it’s as much about who’s hanging out around the grill, as it is about what ends up on your plate. A backyard BBQ brings cooking into the communal sphere, and can turn a meal into a multi-hour hangout, an appreciation for where you live and who lives near you, instead of a mere bite to eat.
And, occasionally, it can turn into an extraordinary demonstration of national pride, a culinary feat of heroics. Just ask a Uruguayan.
Back in 2008, the tiny South American nation staked its claim to grilling dominance with what is estimated to be the world’s biggest barbecue. More than 1200 volunteer grillmasters circled up to cook more than 13 tons of beef. Ok, yes, this was no backyard Webber affair (it was sponsored by a Uruguayan meats association who figured it might prove good for beef exports), but the news reports of piles of meat and residents’ boasts made me wonder: what do our barbecues say about who we are and where we live? What part of our local identity is wrapped up in how we grill our meat (or veggie sausage or marinated tofu tips, or whatever), and who we kick back around the barbecue with? Let us know what you think… What’s on your grill this Memorial Day? And—perhaps more importantly—what does it say about your community?