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A man's thoughts turn to a pivotal issue - cookouts

There are tons of issues in the news this week. The U.S.-Mexican border is still leaking like a sieve while the U.S. Senate proposes amnesty and almost instant citizenship for the 15 million illegals already here - all the while insisting that it's not amnesty, of course.

A U.S. Marine turned the tables on his would-be attackers and taught them an important life lesson - never mess with a U.S. Marine.

Folks are up in arms over the possibility that some soldiers in Iraq initiated a confrontation with unarmed civilians. Gas prices are still high, W's approval ratings are still low, Barry Bonds juiced himself past Babe Ruth in the baseball record books and the Dixie Chicks are being defended right and left by the liberal media - but are still being ignored by the country music fans who made them who they are in the first place.

So with all those topics - and others - from which to choose, what important topic might an opinion columnist address on the first Saturday of summer - the fact that the solstice has not yet occurred notwithstanding?

If the columnist in question is an old linthead from Porterdale, he might address any of the above. Or he might choose to talk about grilling out.

Grilling out?

Absolutely! It's cookout season, y'all, and despite all the important and semi-important issues facing the world, about the only thing that's been on my mind this week is firing up the grill on Saturday for a weekend wing-ding.

I can't help it. There is just something about the thermometer and the humidity reaching the 90s simultaneously that makes me want to run to the store and buy a 40-pound bag of charcoal and fire it up.

Now, you need to understand something here. Grilling out is not a seasonal thing with me. I do it all year. Winter, spring, summer, or fall make no nevermind to me. I have been known to scrape ice off the grill cover in mid-January - but summer is still special when it comes to char-broiling meat over white-hot coals.

There's something else you need to understand. I'm a sucker for anything new in the world of outdoor "barbecuing," - to quote my transplanted friends from north of the border. (The one between Maryland and Pennsylvania, I mean) If it promises to cook red meat in a savory way and will fit in the back of my Dodge Caravan, I'll buy that sucker and cook something on it.

My first grill was a simple contraption. Just a small round metal bowl for the charcoal and a stainless steel grid for the food. The temperature of the cooking surface could be controlled by placing the grid on a bracket at one of three levels. Sheer perfection.

At least for hot dogs and burgers and an occasional steak. But even while perfecting the art of grilling pork chops and basting barbecued chicken, I began to long for a bigger, better model. Grills are a little like women. As soon as you get the one you think you want, somebody else has one you like a little better.

For the record, I have had dozens of different grills, but the woman I chose is a keeper.

But back to the topic at hand. I think my first "step-up" grill had a cover and a lever that would allow you to actually raise and lower the cooking grid. So would the brackets on the old one, of course, but the lever was so much cooler. And the lid would allow you to - well, I wasn't sure exactly what the lid would allow you to do, but I knew I wanted one.

Remember when the Hibachi grill first became popular? With one of them you could cook out right on the rail of your balcony. I didn't have a balcony, understand - or a rail - but I had to have a Hibachi. And then I had to have a kettle grill and then I had to have a Big Green Egg.

When smokers first became popular I, of course, had to have a smoker. I had it three weeks before I almost burned down our new house with it. A word of advice here. Don't ever leave a charcoal smoker on the deck while you leave for few hours to watch a Little League baseball game. Your house may not be there when you get back.

Of course I have gone through half-a-dozen gas grills and an electric smoker, but those are just for convenience. Nothing will ever take the place of charcoal when it comes to taste and testosterone.

And I'm really excited about this weekend because I am breaking in a brand new grill, right out of the box. It has a small round metal bowl for the charcoal and a stainless steel grid for the food. The temperature of the cooking surface can be controlled by placing the grid on a bracket at one of three levels. Sheer perfection.

The meat will be ready around sundown. Y'all come.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and high school history teacher who lives in Rockdale County. Visit his Web site at www.darrellhuckaby.net. His column appears on Saturday.