Shoveling Up Grub: Dadding With Distinction
- Date: May 15, 2018
- Time: 6 p.m.
- Location: Spellerberg Park Picnic Shelter, Sioux Falls, SD
- Temperature: 85 F
- Equipment used: Coleman Roadtrip XCursion propane grill, spatula, tongs
- On the menu: Approximately 40 frozen burger patties, 40 kosher hot dog links – Costco
- Length of achievement: 53 minutes
- Achievement, described:
I got into Cub Scouts with my kids for about the same reason I got into Boy Scouts when I was a kid: the camping.
There’s nothing quite like tossing a few or a dozen or so essentials into a bag for the weekend, hauling the tent and tarp and sleeping bags and camp chairs from some cobwebby corner of the garage, driving out to a grassy spot and praying it won’t rain.
The pluses: the fresh air, quality time with the kids, discovering that kink in your neck that can only come from a few hours fitful sleep on a deflating air mattress.
The minuses: bugs, sun, vault toilets, going into an hours-long trance before the campfire, that two-day interval without the toothbrush you forgot.
Life would be grand as a scout dad if all I mostly did was show up with a full tank of gas, keep my phone in my pocket and apply generous sunscreen and bug spray. But inevitably, as a parent, you volunteer to do more.
The latest twist in my nearly 35-year Scouting journey is serving as Cubmaster for my kids’ pack.
Cooking For 50
In addition to sending a bunch of reminder emails and managing to start and end things on time, there’s the sheaf of paperwork the council and local district require at inopportune times each month. And when it comes to periodic big events and, yes, campouts — making sure the whole crew performs essential tasks like, for example, getting fed and watered.
We’re in the Midwest so we have a mostly sensible solution for this nearly all of the time. The potluck, or, a la Minnesota and points near Minnesota, “hot dish,” allows families to assemble their variously-shaded cookware and serve up a joint buffet. Nothing harder there than making sure we allocate ourselves more or less evenly among drinks, main dish, sides and dessert.
But excursions beyond the church fellowship room require planning and shopping and preparing onsite in whatever the elements serve up.
For our annual closing picnic in May, I aimed for something more than walking tacos or half-cold hot dish. What could be more Cub Scout-y, more American than a platter of burgers and dogs on a sunny afternoon?
But preparing dinner at home maybe involves grilling up 8 burgers or brats to feed our family of five. Easily accomplished by shuffling a few steps to the charcoal grill on my deck and following my usual routine. Grilling for around 50 different tastes, off-site, after work necessitated a hard look at logistics.
Costco came through in bulk, as is its wont. Stuff I’d never buy for the family at home — sorry, Cubbers — came perfectly packaged for our big group. Burgers by the case of 80. Hotdog packages of 8 in triplicate. Bought twice. I figured with 50 feasible attendees I needed to plan on seconds of either dogs or burgers. So came equipped with about 80 burger patties and 72 or so hot dogs, packed them all in ice, and turned my attention, next, to how I’d heat them all to a savory taste and a non-illness-inducing temperature.
The Grill’s The Thing
Not willing to risk our group’s health to the rusty, fixed charcoal grills found in most picnic areas, or my car to the transport of my home Weber, I set out to research a solution our pack could cart around for the next several years.
I’d grown up with the Coleman tabletop propane ranges. But the portable XCursion grill caught my eye as something requiring no table and more amenable to a load of dogs on one side and burgers on the other.
The cast-iron grates are sturdy and more appealing than cooking on the non-stick stuff. The whole apparatus is fueled by small propane tanks that screw into the underside of the grill. And assembly took nothing more than a dedicated half hour on my living room carpet.
When the big day I arrived, I folded down the seats in our (ubiquitous) midsize SUV and brought along two water bottles to fill the grease troughs underneath the grilling grates. Pro tip: doing this, as the manual instructs, means that once you’re done cooking you can just empty the grease right out. We Cubmaster dads are all about easy cleanup.
The grill started right up and I was moving through about six burgers and 10 dogs every 5 to 10 minutes. I found I could ease back to medium-low heat after things got sufficiently heated up. Grilling at such a volume meant some inevitable flareups through the open spaces on the edges of the grates, and it was tough to jam more than about three patties in a triangular pattern on each grate and still have room enough for dogs, so the burgers fell behind the dogs for awhile. But that seemed OK with the boys.
On the whole, this new grill and old dad held up admirably well in the first outing, with just two leftover burgers and a single leftover dog. The grease traps were filled to the line — about 2.5 inches deep if you were waiting on that image — but emptied right out as described. The grill itself took a bit longer to clean, which I accomplished, in true guy fashion, about two weeks later in a rush as I was packing it up for our big campout in Pipestone, MN.
The grill’s second stint, camping, with the same fare on the menu, went just as swimmingly as the first. Only this time I ignored my own Pro Tip and didn’t fill the grease traps with water. Cleanup this time is bound be harder. Bound to be… since I still haven’t gotten around to it. For me, the pursuit of the event and then the living event has always been a lot more rewarding than the aftermath. But isn’t that true for most of us? Stay tuned for the unlocking of that achievement. Or, don’t. And just ignore the burger!