Backyard Bonds

It takes a lot of energy to throw a neighborhood BBQ.

It’s one of the things we love best about summer: family and friends in the backyard, kids going bananas on the lawn or in the pool and the rich, smoky aroma of sizzling steaks, burgers, dogs, chicken – you name it – on the grill. Good company and good times – powered and supported by natural gas and oil.

Alex says he likes the connection that grilling gives him with his hunter/gatherer ancestors, and there’s much eye-rolling. Yet, there’s a smidge of truth to it. Not the hunter/gatherer part. His wife did all that at Wegman’s the day before. The fire-making isn’t a challenge, either. Turn a knob, press a button, and the grill fires up, blue flames licking at the cooking grid.

Even so, Alex says, there’s a pleasing primal quality to cooking on an open grill. No one’s going to confuse Alex for a caveman, but he does grill a good burger.

Alex and Linda hadn’t planned to cook out this weekend, but when best friends Jocelyn and Robert suggested it on Wednesday they checked the forecast, stocked the fridge and decided to make a thing of it. Pretty soon they had all the essential elements: The Allens would bring condiments, the Keys would bring sodas, the Mensahs – just moved in from Ghana – would bring plantains for roasting and the Williams would bring a case of craft beer. Five families, tons of kids and good food. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Alex and Linda’s house is the preferred venue because the backyard has an above-ground pool, swing set and room for Wiffle Ball and other games. And it has The Grill. He got it from the “man cave” at the local hardware store – a basement area filled with virtually every make and model of grill imaginable. His has lots of stainless steel, six burners with their own control knobs, a warming side burner, temperature gauge, the works.

42 million households use propane for outdoor grilling each year

64% of Americans who grill use gas as their fuel source

Of Americans who grill, 63% of them grill hamburgers most often

71% of us like mustard on our hot dogs – usually squeezed from plastic bottles made from petroleum.

The sporadic clouds in the sky provide occasional shade, which Alex is thankful for once those six burners get going. The gauge on his propane tank says he’s getting low on fuel, but he has a spare tank in the shed.

Alex takes a long pull from the bottle and looks around at his neighbors and their children, frolicking in the yard. Dan and his boy are throwing a football back and forth. Todd is lounging in the pool on a plastic/vinyl raft that looks like a slice of pizza, cold beer in hand. His 3-year-old daughter dog paddles nearby, plastic floaties on her arms. Darian and Bruce sit at the patio table debating whether Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the best basketball player in NBA history. All around is the laughter and squeals of the children, and a sense that as a summer afternoon fades into twilight it will be a day to remember.

He checks on the hotdogs and burgers, and they’re ready. He pulls each off the grill and sets them onto a platter. He hollers, and everyone dashes to the table that’s already stocked with buns, potato salad, watermelon, slaw, chips, mustard and ketchup, cups, sporks – and those wonderful plantains. The cooler is filled with beer, sodas and ice.

Over the feast, they’re all reminded of the way BBQs like this one help everyone relax, catch up and get centered again for the next challenge, whatever it is. The backyard is an oasis of food, games, conversation and friendship, American style. The burgers and dogs are great, but as the long summer day turns into night, they know that, regardless of where the world takes them, they’ll be friends – and remember what it’s like to be relatively carefree and satisfied.

Natural gas and oil: Powering the moments that matter.