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Barbecuing is a ritual for men

Okay, call me sexist. But I think grilling is my husband's territory.

I think this not because I can't grill, it's more because I, along with a lot of other women, just don't want to grill.

Like the Y chromosome, many men are born with what's commonly known as the barbecue gene. This gene is the missing link between modern man and caveman; it's defined by the need to cook raw meat over an open flame.

This time of year, the barbecue gene causes certain common behaviors to arise. All across the United States, the ritual has begun. Men roll out the grills onto patios and driveways and into back yards and local parks as their wives, girlfriends and significant helpers shudder in the background. They search for the grill tools hiding underneath the Tupperware in the back of the cabinet. They wipe down their metal cooking machines and prepare for some outdoor culinary feats.

My husband is no different: He's a griller.

We have a charcoal grill _ a smoker to be exact, although we've never actually smoked anything in it. It was one of the first purchases we made as a married couple. We used a wedding present gift certificate to buy it; it was his idea.

He'd already been eyeing the stout black monster in the Service Merchandise catalog for about a year before the gift certificate gave him the chance to make that baby his.

Our grill must be made of some quality parts because my husband never returns it to the garage when he's finished using it. Instead it lives on our back patio, enduring thunderstorms and heat waves.

Every grill season he talks about getting a high-tech gas model, but so far we haven't made the transition. He oohs and ahhs over them at Sears and Home Depot and Pace Warehouse. I hide out in other aisles.

The futuristic model that has caught my husband's eye lately is a sleek gray rocket that looks like something George Jetson would have used to cook space-burgers. (Even cartoon men like to grill, I bet.)

The Thermos Thermal Electric Grill sells for $269.99 at Pace Warehouse. According to the box it comes in, this model won a 1993 design and engineering award. It has a thermal insulated dome, a non-stick electric cooking grid, durable molded side shelves and a die cast aluminum bottom shelf.

"If I had that grill, I wouldn't leave it outside," my husband said the last time he gawked at the Thermos Thermal.

But so far he's stuck with our charcoal one. And I think he'd miss building his little charcoal piles, dousing them with lighter fluid and waiting for the coals to turn white.

The communal fire

Women, I think it's safe to say, don't see grilling as the religious experience that men do. To us, it's just more cooking and more cleaning _ a lot of cleaning.

I just don't get the fascination. Instead of turning on the stove and cooking food in a few minutes or, even better, popping it into the microwave, you build a fire and wait and wait and wait. You get hungrier and hungrier and hungrier.

My husband sets up a barbecue station near the grill, on which he places a serving platter (usually one of our better dinnerware pieces), tongs, long forks, seasoning and of course, extra meat. He then places the steaks or hot dogs _ or whatever the evening's fare is _ in a sundial formation above the hottest coals.

When we have people over, the male guests and my husband gather around the grill and watch the meat sizzle as it hits the hot metal bars. Eventually one of them will pick up the tongs and turn something over. Then another guy will go for it, and then another. The host griller does the final flipping.

"Hey, you know you can do a whole chicken in that thing?" a male guest said recently. "I once grilled two chickens in a smoker like that."

That's all they needed to get started. For 30 minutes the two men discussed the joys of grilling. I think I even heard a grunt or two. (Which leads to my theory that those men's groups where they bang drums and talk about how great it is to be a man are just a front for guys who want to get together and brag about barbecuing adventures.)

It's enough to make the average woman dream about turning her family into vegetarians in order to avoid the raw-meat fire rituals. But that won't help, now that cookbooks show you how to grill potatoes, corn on the cob, onions and other vegetables.

Face it, women of America. Grilling season is here and that barbecue gene will turn men everywhere into prehistoric backyard chefs.