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You want that steak well-done, you say?

The above picture captures what has to be one of my least successful BBQ feasts…

The post I am currently working on involves a particular culinary process that will take some time to complete and, since I can’t finish writing until it is done, I have decided to take break from my usual sort of post and share a rather nasty experience with you. The incident in question took place over a year and a half-ago and, while I am able to take it somewhat lightly now, at the time it was one of the scariest episodes in my whole life … 

When we first moved into our current home some five years ago, the wife bought me a really nice Propane Barbecue and, when the weather permitted, I would barbecue two, three or four times a week. Last summer but one, I planned to cook some steak and ribs and I duly fired up the burners. Since I wanted the ribs to be nice and smoky I was going to cook them first with the lid closed and a pan of mesquite chips inside. I soaked my chips, put them in the barbecue and then … in a stupid move I shall not repeat … I went inside to check e-mails whilst the chips got smoking.

It was during this time that disaster struck and it was only sometime after the fact that I was able to piece together what must have happened. Our deck receives quite a bit of wind and it would often get strong enough to blow out the barbecue flame sometimes. To prevent this, I placed a big sheet of plywood behind the unit a few weeks before in order to act as a sort of windbreak. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the very wind that I was trying to block must have blown the sheet against the back of the lid where, given the heat, and my negligent absence, it, all too promptly, caught alight…

Anyway, when I eventually emerged from my computer room the first thing I saw was thick black smoke rolling across the deck and I immediately ran outside to see the entire barbecue unit completely and totally engulfed in flames. At that moment, I was certain that a serious house fire was imminent and I yelled to the wife to call the fire brigade. I ran back inside again and, very frantically, tried to locate a suitable container for water and settled, I think, on a large pot … When I dashed out and threw the water at the fire there was no apparent effect but it was at that moment I saw, to my absolute horror, that the hose from the fuel tank to the unit was burning!!

Naturally, getting rid of the tank was paramount and I managed to do so even though I cannot now recall exactly how. I do, however, remember wondering if it was even possible for propane tanks to explode (they can, I since leaned) and I suppose the thought also crossed my mind that, if it did, supper was definitely going to be ruined. I quickly grabbed the tank and, though I have no memory of actually unscrewing the hose attachment, I must have done so. Later, I discovered that I had burned my hand although, thankfully, not badly.

For the next few, frantic and horrible minutes, my wife and I both ran back and forth chucking water at the blaze. For a while, I was certain that the house was going to go up but we actually managed to beat back the flames a little when the fire fighters arrived and finished off the job in short order.  As it happened, aside from a few burnt patches on the deck and some greasy smoke on the siding, our house was not damaged at all.

 Although we were both shaken, my wife and I still had sufficient wits about us to be amazed at how quickly the fire brigade had responded. We commented on that and one of the fire fighters laughed and said we were very lucky indeed. Apparently, when my wife called, the brigade was in the middle of an exercise and the guys were all suited up and on their way to tackle a pretend fire. When the call came in redirecting them to our very real one, they were mere streets away. I suppose, on reflection, that the BBQ gods must have smiled on us that day…. or, at least after torching our unit, that is.

Anyway, when I look at the picture showing where the dials used to be, it reminds me of a face and I can’t help thinking that my poor BBQ died with a final look of nasty surprise. It was an unpleasant lesson to learn, I have to say, but that very week I went and bought a fire extinguisher. When I buy a new BBQ this summer, I will have the extinguisher handy at all times and you can also bet that never again will I leave a hot unit unattended for any longer than it takes to go and fetch the BBQ sauce!


I am a lawyer by profession and my practice is Criminal... I mean, I specialize in Criminal law. My work involves travelling on Court circuits to remote Arctic communities. In between my travels I write a Food blog at

5 thoughts on “You want that steak well-done, you say?

  1. scarey – but it sounds like you did a great job. Those few minutes away from the stove/bbq are all it takes to ruin a nice steak. I’ve done it myself but with less a less dramatic outcome!

  2. Oh, my goodness. What a story! And the photo is so dramatic. Hope your BBQs are much less dramatic this season. Thanks for stopping by my blog and the like. Am going to enjoy reading your blog.

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