Trial by fire
I was not quite sure if the 3-foot flames would reach the wood-shingle roof or the old-growth oak trees in the backyard, but by Thanksgiving 2003, I now understood the necessity of having a fire extinguisher on hand in the home.
Since I wouldn't be traveling home for the holiday that year, I decided to fix a traditional feast. As a novice Thanksgiving chef, I waited until the last minute to shop for groceries and had to purchase a fresh bird. My dad, grill master extraordinaire, was known for barbecuing the most tender, juicy, flavorful turkeys. Perhaps, I thought, I had inherited his BBQ genes, and I began to prepare my trusty Weber pot. My dad gave me careful instructions about how to create a ring of briquettes around the drip pan, establish the perfect temperature with the coals, and place the turkey on the grill. Confident my turkey would emulate my dad's, I lit the briquettes.
Once the coals were hot and the turkey was grilling, I continued to check the bird's progress. Everything seemed to be going well until I noticed a small flame flickering from the bottom of the grill. I didn't think much of it and put the lid back on the barbecue. The flame continued to grow and began shooting out of the vents in the bottom of the pot. Hesitant to ask for help, I waited to call my dad, who would've been about to sit down to the big family feast in Oregon. The inferno continued, and I started to worry about the roof and trees at my rental. When the flames shot up 3 feet off the grill, I knew it was time to call Dad.
By the time I got hold of my parents, the whole family (about 15 people) was arms-deep in mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and, of course, the golden bird. It was hard for my dad to understand me through my panicked cries for help, and probably more so through his own laughter at my Thanksgiving disaster. He had never experienced flames like mine in his grilling past. Dad explained that, clearly, I had started a major grease fire on the grill and instructed me on how to put it out.
My aspirations of my "golden" bird flew the coop, and in its place landed the "dirty-char" species. My poor bird was not only charred black, but also encrusted with dirt from the rescue effort. Finally, after many laughs and glasses of wine, we sat down for our first vegetarian Thanksgiving feast.
–JODY MOTTERN, BURBANK, CA