"Yeeeeeeeeeeeehawwwwwww!!! Listen here, wife! I's gonna learn me how to bar-beeeeeee-cue."
I'd like to say those were the very words I yelled across my double-wide trailer before heading to West Virginia with the missus for a three-day course on how to manhandle meat. Unfortunately, I live in an apartment three blocks from Times Square, drive an SUV that's bleeding my bank account dry, and when I yeehaw, burly truck drivers two states away pull over to wipe tears of laughter from their eyes.
Then again, Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Boot Camp at the Greenbrier isn't exactly a backwoods hootenanny. Granted, the Greenbrier is in West Virginia—but this graceful, columned resort (think equal parts White House, Tara, and Versailles) in White Sulphur Springs is so genteel that if you want to yeehaw after 6 p.m., you'd better do it in a Brooks Brothers blazer. And, while Raichlen may smell like smoldering wood chips, this master of the grill (and author of the best-selling Barbecue Bible) is serious about the art of cooking out.
The Greenbrier has been holding cooking classes for 24 years, featuring chefs as celebrated as Julia Child. In 2000, Raichlen added a barbecue finishing school to the curriculum. Classrooms don't get any better than his: Kate's Mountain Lodge, about a half-mile from the main hotel, is wood-beamed, wood-paneled, wood-burning, and missing just enough wall to allow a nice view of the woods. About 35 of us are attending this session, and we chat in hushed anticipation like the raw recruits we are.
I've never taken a cooking class and I'm about as at home in the kitchen as a fat man in the Bolshoi Ballet. But grilling is a different matter. First, it doesn't feel like cooking. It feels more like a great excuse to hang out in the backyard and hum ABBA tunes without having to do something sweaty and productive like mowing the lawn. Second, when you make a (theoretically) triumphant entrance bearing a platter of sizzling steaks, everyone is impressed. Plus, I can't get enough of the charbroiled taste. If anyone figures out a way to make barbecue-flavored dental floss, call me. I'll buy it. All of it.
Unfortunately, my skills are so limited that when I prepare a "grilled smorgasbord," it means that some of the burgers are well-done and the rest are burned. I hoped Raichlen's class would give me the grilling mastery that every man claims to possess, but doesn't. In other words, I wanted the kind of masculine boasting rights a $230,000 Ferrari might confer.