One of my more memorable moments this summer came when one of my neighbors sold his house and moved away. As a parting gift, he gave me his propane gas grill.
I have to explain something here. My gas grill is over 13 years old, and has been used pretty consistently. It is made from cast aluminum, has two burners, lava rocks and looks like something that survived the culinary apocalypse. At least once a year I have to remove a thick layer of seasoned grease from the insides. It is big enough for a reasonable 10 hamburgers or a half-dozen pork chops. Chef Ramsey might take an axe to it, but I could make it sing and dance like Gene Kelly, if you know what I mean. All the wear items on it have been replaced at least once, probably twice, and it can still run the marathon—constant as a grandfather clock. A quality piece of American craftsmanship, courtesy of the Sunbeam Corporation. It has also never tried to kill me.
My old neighbor’s grill: made from stainless steel and another material to be named later. It is (was) only 3 years old, had 3 burners (plus one on the side) and large enough to grill a spare tire on. A big, shiny and impressive backyard blast furnace. Chef Ramsey might have married it, given the opportunity. My neighbor didn’t use it much, so it was pretty clean inside and out. It didn’t take much inducement to wheel it over to my yard, and give it a go.
So I did. I spent a few minutes cleaning the cobwebs out, checking the fittings and looking over the gadgets- before putting it to the test. Safety first! Then, gas on. Light burner #1- flame on- good to go- burner #2 –flame on- good to go. Light up burner #3 –flame on- ready for a full payload of t-bones and ribeyes. I close the lid and open the jets to full power- just to see how quickly we can get this little ‘ol shuttle into orbit. We get there pretty fast. I open the lid and inspect the firebox area as we come to the top of the safety curve- the apogee of our orbit.
Then I discover a flame- in a place where a flame heretofore does not belong- shooting up and out the side of the firebox. This is –in a word- ungood. In most of the cookouts that I have attended, it is advisable NOT to cook the chef and/or selected guests along with the entrees – at least not in my neighborhood. So I cut off the gas, wait for things to cool, then make a close inspection of the gas burners. I find an unhealthy crack in one of the burners, causing the errant flame discharge. Sonofagun!
I need to find spare parts, so I do a Google search on the grill model number to find a replacement burner. I won’t give up without a fight. The first Google hit is a link to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website. It’s a recall. Apparently the engineers who designed this thing were not rocket scientists – since not only were the burners made too thin (they crack easily) but the firebox and the sides were made out of magnesium. (For those of you who are not physicists, magnesium is an interesting metal- known for its 3 main properties: light weight, great strength, and intense flammability. Magnesium is also used in the manufacture of railroad safety flares, which can burn for years- even under water.) When it catches fire, magnesium burns white-hot, and since it creates its own oxygen during combustion- no amount of water or household fire extinguishers can put it out. (The only places that have the right kind of extinguisher are airports and automobile race tracks.) So here is the scenario: you cook some steaks, the burner cracks, flames overheat the magnesium, and suddenly you have the 4th of July on your patio. Bummer. It is not without irony that this grill was manufactured in the country where fireworks were invented. It is also not without irony that this grill was marketed under the brand name ‘Perfect Flame’. I figure that if I had left the thing running another ten minutes, I would have witnessed a realistic recreation of the Hindenburg disaster. (There are YouTube videos out there that you can watch. Look up ‘Perfect Flame Grill Fire’.)
So the next day I called the phone number on the CPSC webpage. The woman who answered asked for the model number. When I gave it to her, there was a pause, and then she said six words:
“Bring it back to the store.”
I told her that I didn’t buy it, and that my neighbor gave it to me.
“Bring it back to the store.”
I told her that I didn’t have a receipt.
“BRING. IT. BACK. TO. THE. STORE. Which part of this sentence is confusing you?”
She took my phone number, and in less than 10 minutes I get a phone call from the Lowes’ home improvement store head office. They ask me where my nearest Lowes’ store is. They tell me to expect a call from that store by the end of the day, and not to use the grill again. Ever. In another 10 minutes I get a call from the local store manager. He asks me two questions:
“Did the grill catch fire?” and, “Did anybody get hurt?”
When I said no, he said the following paragraph (without stopping for a breath, I might add.)
“Good. Can you bring the grill to our store? Do you know where our store is? If you can’t come to our store, can we send someone over to pick it up now? Nobody is using it right now, I hope. We can have a brand-new grill waiting for you at the store. I’m sure that you will like it better than the one that you have right now. What would you like to do?”
By the end of the day I had returned lil’ Chernobyl to the store and came home with a brand-new 4 burner, stainless steel (non-magnesium) propane barbeque grill (I paid extra for more cooking landscape.) I don’t know who is luckier – me or my neighbor. He owned it for at least 3 years before he gave it to me. And neither one of us cooked our house with it.