*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.
My mother-in-law gave me a roast beef with instructions to ‘put it under the broiler.’
“Put it under the broiler,” she said, and I did.
I was a newlywed, and I was equally new to the joys of cooking.
When I was unmarried and wanted a home-cooked meal, I’d spear rolled-up baloney onto the tines of a fork and scorch it over the gas stove burner on high until it was black. Place between two slices of soft white bread and cover liberally in ketchup, and you still have the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted.
Shortly after my wedding, my mother-in-law and I had a conversation about cooking. I don’t think I started that conversation; I didn’t have anything to say.
My mother-in-law looked in her freezer and found something she thought I might be able to cook for her son. It was a frozen roast beef that she assured me I’d be able to make with no trouble at all.
“Just put it under the broiler,” she instructed.
I can’t remember if she gave me any specifics or any tips. She certainly didn’t warn me it would be possible to burn that roast beef until it caught fire, but that’s exactly what happened.
A day or two after our conversation, I fired up my apartment oven, rolled open the drawer at the bottom where I could see the ring of gas fire burning, popped in the roast beef on an aluminum-covered pan, and hoped for the best.
I didn’t know how long it would take, but the answer was that it should have taken less time than I allotted. By the time I thought to check on the beef, smoke was rolling out from the bottom of the oven.
When I pulled the oven door open, more smoke billowed out. Things weren’t looking good for my first home-cooked roast beef dinner. When the smoke dissipated, I saw I had charred the beef until it was black and crumbling, and there were little fires burning in pools of liquified fat at the bottom of the pan.
Using potholders, I yanked the pan from the oven and dropped it atop the stovetop. It was still burning.
Fortunately, the flames kept to the small fat deposits on the aluminum foil and did not spread. Putting out the tiny fires was easy work, much easier in fact than making dinner from scratch.
To this day, I still have not successfully cooked a roast beef dinner. I made a turkey once, but I left the bagged neck and innards trapped inside the carcass until it was time to serve it. It was edible anyhow, unlike my charred roast beef.
Believe it or not, leaving the bag of horror inside the turkey when I cooked it was a conscious decision. After a half-hearted effort to pry it out of the turkey crevasse, I decided it would cause less trouble if I just let it stay where it was.
I’m happy to say I was right.