Opinion: Outdoor cooking

Commentary by Terry Anker

It must be summer because we are cooking outside! What is it about longer, warmer days that urges us to move from the comfortable confines of our cozy kitchens to brave the complexities of charcoal and imprecise temperature control? From the earliest times, we humans have maintained our precious fires inside, first in the cave, then the hut. We understand that control over the resource is part-and-parcel to dominion on this planet. Modern ranges, heating and cooling units and other devices all reflect efforts to perfect management of our environment, including food preparation.

With reduced threat from wildlife and other human enemies, we came to recognize that an outdoor kitchen was both safer and cooler, especially in the heat of the summer months. Technology allowed us to conjure fires more easily and organized society begat rule-of-law and professional enforcement. Perhaps our Weber Grills reflect this move of the hearth from the cave to the lawn. As the days lengthen, we are reminded of the wise choices of those who came before us. If we can’t stand the heat, let’s move the kitchen outside!

Even as improved security has allowed us to live outside without fear, upgraded technology makes staying indoors cool and comfortable, regardless of the exterior temperature. So, are we cooking out because we always have or for other reasons? Is a big fire under a big sky just a part of our DNA? Or, do we have a panoply of new justifications? What other rituals in our daily lives are an echo of some earlier, and justifiable, behavior that we continue to do nowadays more from habit than from necessity? Cooking outdoors is fun, disrupts the routine and rustles up some unusual flavors. The tradition’s modern iteration seems worthy of retention. Can we say the same for all the habits we keep?

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