Grilled Onions

Nobody ever waded through a crowd of people at the fair because they smelled a snow cone.

You know are an adult when you start ordering grilled onions on your cheeseburger. You may have suffered from alliumphobia as a kid, but sooner or later you’ll grow up. The smell is what gets you. You can trick people into thinking that you’ve been working up a storm in the kitchen by simply putting an onion in the oven. If you’ve ever been at an outdoor festival, it’s the smell of grilled onions at the polish sausage stand that draws you over. Nobody ever waded through a crowd of people at the fair because they smelled a snow cone. It’s the caramelized onions that draw you.

I hated onions as a kid. I am still not the point where I can take a bite out of a raw onion like Ronnie Spates. Perhaps I’ll work up to that someday. Right now I tolerate raw onion and cilantro that they serve at the taco place, and the occasional slice of onion that comes on that turkey sandwich from Costco. I’m still not overly fond of raw onions, but I am talking about it so that is part of the healing process. Onions are ingredients, not stand alone food. People don’t just walk around eating flour or baking soda do you? I do remember people walking around at Smith’s Grocery eating starch out of the package. The kind of starch you iron your clothes with. “It’s great!” They said. “But my doctor tells me not to do it.” I never understood that. Eating raw flour might make more sense. Do you know any starch eaters?

I remember sitting in the buggy and eating raw hamburger meat straight out of the package at Food World. It was before Lindsay was born, so I guess I was under two years old. It seems like I was mesmerized by the shiny shrink wrap around the ground beef. I poked it with my finger. After a while I made a little hole in the shrink wrap and started eating the raw meat one little nibble at a time. It was the cashier who noticed that the package had a hole in it. Mom frowned at this discovery but never suspected me. I told her a couple years ago. And I just told all y’all. If you are wondering I’m fully recovered. Anyway, I was telling you about grilled onions.

It all started in Winchester, VA. There was a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called The Snow White Grill. It had been open since the 30s and they were known for tiny little hamburgers. Imagine Krystal burgers, but good. The burgers are-perhaps were, I haven’t been in a while-made from fresh local beef on a flat top grill. They make about forty patties at a time, and they finish them with grilled onions. They take pride in their grilled onions. There is not an option to have a burger without onions and if you ask for no onions they will look at you like you ate the Lord’s supper.

The Grilled onions on the Snow White Grill cheeseburger is what got me. It was a completely new way to experience a burger. Like seeing your childhood neighborhood in a different city. One with a Chick Fil A. It’s like going from arithmetic to quantum mechanics. Or Perhaps just algebra. I’m not entirely sure what all quantum mechanics entails. Grilled onions on your cheeseburger makes it deluxe. Like the familiar standard model, but way better.

Maybe you already know this and have been putting grilled onion on everything from cheeseburgers to ice cream for years. You probably eat raw onions too. But some of y’all have never tried grilled onions on your cheeseburger, and if you’ve read this far so you might as well go do it. Just be sure it’s at a reputable hamburger place. I recommend Hamburger Heaven or Milo’s. And let met know about it.

Bacon Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions from Hamburger Heaven

Thanks for reading, sharing and supporting.

-Zane Wells

My First Guitar

When I received my first guitar, I finally found something that I could excel with.

I suppose that for the first decade of my conscious life, I merely observed other people do things that they truly enjoyed. My poor vision and depth perception made catching a football or baseball a terrifying ordeal, much to the annoyance of my older brother. My lack of enthusiasm for hunting and fishing puzzled my father. My inclination toward music, but lack of motivation to practice piano perplexed my mother, and frustrated my piano instructors-Yvonne Clinkscales and Pam Roberts. When I received my first guitar, I finally found something that I could excel with.

After two years of playing the broom, I signed up for guitar class at school which finally convinced my parents to buy me a guitar. My Dad told Mom to drive me to Mars Music in Homewood, AL, which was about the same as driving to Mars itself as far as I knew. 

“What kind of guitar are you looking for?” Mom asked as we sat in the stand still traffic on 280.

“Electric.” I said. This would be like asking a child what flavor ice cream they wanted and getting the response, “Red.”

I was completely unfamiliar with the details of guitars, but that didn’t matter. By some miracle, I had convinced my parents to purchase me a guitar and we were on our way to do just that. The people at Mars would know all about guitars.

We got to Mars Music despite the traffic. I had never been in a music store before, and I was mesmerized. As we walked through the door it was like walking into a concert through backstage. The lights were dim in the building save for spotlights on a floor to ceiling wall full of guitars. There was a new exciting smell of fog machines and rented sound equipment. I walked over to the guitar wall and just stared. Now I knew how my brother felt when we went to the sporting goods store and he would just stare at the hunting rifles. This was where I belonged, and I didn’t want to let this feeling go away.

I was still standing there when mom walked up behind me with a sales associate.

“So y’all are looking for a guitar?” He asked. 

“Electric.” I said, still looking at the wall of shiny guitars.

“Let me show you what I recommend for beginners.” He walked us over to the starter packs and point out the Squier Strat. We looked at it. 

“This is everything you need. Rock’n Roll in a box.” He said cheerfully. 

We dug the guitar out of the box and I gave it a couple awkward strums. It felt right in my hands. 

I still had to learn to play it, but having that guitar was a turning point in my life. It did wonders for my self esteem. Until my parents bought me a guitar, I had never really fit anything else I had tried. It took them going out of their way to help me find my way. After all these years, I still have that same guitar. I leave it out in the living room so my son can pick it up and play whenever he feels like it. It would be nice to see him learn how to play, but I’m ok if he doesn’t. I hope that I can find where he fits, even if it means taking him to someone who can steer him in the right direction.  

Barbecue, Barbeque, BBQ

It’s that time of year. Barbecue season. I’ve always struggled with how to spell that, but WordPress autocorrect just informed me that the proper spelling was “Barbecue”. I bet they won’t tell that to Golden Rule Barbeque in Irondale, which has been around at least hundred years longer than autocorrect. They probably won’t tell Fat Man’s Bar B Que in Pell City either. Or Full Moon Bar-B-Que. Anyway, I’m still not sure how to spell it, because I “ain’t never eat no” BBQ that WordPress cooked. But even if I can’t spell it, I can define it. At least I’ll give it a try. Defining barbecue is like defining women. You’ll excite half the people and offend the rest.

First off, barbecue is a noun. I think it’s pork. Mainly Boston Butt’s, but if you want to throw some ribs on the grill while we’re waiting for the butts to get done I’ll still eat them and call it barbecue. I eat so many ribs one year when I was a boy that it was several years before I had another one. If you want to get deep and go to the root meaning of the word barbecue, it means “cooking a whole hog on a wood fired grill”. Which is where we get the term, “Whole Hog.” Which means that you go all out doing something. I’ll use it in a sentence so you’ll understand it better.

“Zane is taking this writing thing seriously, I heard he’s going whole hog and trying to write a book.”

Barbecue also has to have some sauce. My Uncle Johnny was always the self appointed grill master at all of our family get togethers in the summer. Not without good reason though, he is an excellent cook. He would crupper up his own sauce recipe using Kraft Original as a base. “Cattleman’s tastes too much like ketchup, don’t use it.” He would say. When the meat was done, he would pull it apart or chop it up, put it in a deep pan and pour enough sauce over it that it would  almost simmer and bubble as it sat on the grill. He always made two pans, one regular and one hot. He liked it hot. He didn’t have any teeth and chewed tobacco. I don’t think that affected his taste buds though. Once he ate breakfast with us and drank the tomato juice out of the serving plate. I watched him in wonder as he slurped the juice, set the plate down and lick his lips. He sat there a moment enjoying his draught. Then he said,”There was a bad tomato in there.”  Anyone with taste buds that sharp wouldn’t have been inhibited by tobacco juice. Anyway, Uncle Johnny liked his barbecue hot. He liked everything hot. He made gravy so hot one time that the cats wouldn’t eat it. As a kid, my mom would warn me about the hot pan of barbecue. “It’s hot baby, you won’t like it.” I grew up thinking that the hot pan of barbecue was going to burn through my esophagus. When I was finally old enough to fix my own plate, I tried some. It was delicious.

I’ve rambled a little bit here. We were defining Barbecue and I’ve already offended all the Texans and Carolinians. It’s probably just easier to tell you what barbecue ain’t, and that’s hamburger and hot dogs. You’re supposed to fry hamburgers in an iron skillet and roast weenies in the fall around a fire. If you get invited to a barbecue and they’re cooking hamburgers and hot dogs, I’m sorry, but those people have misled you. I’m sure they’re nice people and all, but I wouldn’t let them watch my kids if I were you, next thing you know they’ll have them playing soccer or something crazy like that. 

A Barbecue (see how I capitalized it) is also defined as a sacred feast for Southerners, where pork is cooked on a wood fired grill outside. This feast usually lasts about three days.

In general, we had about four or five Barbecues a year. We did have the official family reunion at my Great Uncle Freddie’s on the river, and sometimes we barbecued there. But all the same people came to the barbecues at my Aunt Edna’s, just up the hill from Pop’s, on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. And whenever Pop deemed it was angood time to have a Barbecue.  Since the location, menu, and people were the same each time, the only way that I could tell a difference in all of those holidays was that we shot bottle rockets on the Fourth of July. To me, these summer holidays were simply Barbecues.

The Barbecue would start on Friday night. “We’ll serve dinner on Sunday at noon.” Pop would say. Up until then, we feasted. We might have a fish fry while the barbecue was slow cooking. Somebody might through some Cornish game hens on the grill and eat them while we were waiting on the main course. One time my Uncle James put a Boston Butt on the grill and then left. He come back about six or five hours later and his meat was about half gone. He singled Uncle Johnny out, “You done eat all my barbecue Johnny.”

“I can’t eat t’at James, I ain’t got no teeth!” Uncle Johnny retorted.

“Yeah, but you kin bite a railroad rail in two with them gums of yores.”

Barbecuing a whole hog is a lot of work, but man is it worth it. There is nothing like slicing the meat off of a hog and eating it around the grill. All it needs is a little bit of salt.

This is the grill that Pop & Uncle Johnny used throughout my childhood. You can see the front peice is on the ground. You can cook whole hogs or just use the grill to cook Boston Butts and ribs. 

When Sunday finally rolled around, we would eat, not just barbecue, but we had a buffet of sides that was five tables long under Aunt Edna’s carport. It was also about fifty yards from the grill. I’m not writing about sides though, I’m writing about barbecue.

When I close my eyes and work up a hankering for barbecue, I still see my family sitting outside around a humongous oak tree. Many of them have passed on now.  I envision myself as a little boy with thick glasses walking to the grill down by the tree line. They were pine trees. Uncle Johnny pulls the front of the grill open to throw a couple of pieces of hickory wood on the fire. Sparks fly everywhere. I walk in front of all the old men sitting around the grill and ask Uncle Johnny to dip me out some of barbecue on my bun. “No sir, I’ll have the regular.” I say. I take a bite of that barbecue sandwich, and blink to get the smoke out of my eyes. That’s really how I define Barbecue.

That giant oak tree finally died and they had to cut it down before it fell on Aunt Edna’s house. I’m sure they used some of that wood for a barbecue. Uncle Johnny showed my brother how to barbecue a coon’s age ago. He wanted to pass it on to the next generation. Although Zach learned on the other grill, I feel like he mastered this one. I’m going to get one of these someday. 

Since I’ve moved to Virginia, I haven’t been to a proper Barbecue in over a decade. Perhaps that’s why I’ve expanded my definition of barbecue to include Brisket, chicken, and dry rub. I even like that old nasty vinegar stuff they try to pass as barbecue down in the Carolinas. No matter what barbecue I try, nothing is quite the same as those summer Barbecues of my childhood in the blazing Alabama heat. It’s hard to capture that whole experience in a restaurant. 

It seems like every year when the weather changes I get invited to someone’s place for a barbecue. I’ve learned to be polite and go, but I know it’s going to be hamburgers and hot dogs.