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Father Knows Best: Manning the Grill

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

By Bonnie Fishman

Dr. Eric Greenberg at his grill
Dr. Eric Greenberg at his grill

It’s almost June 20th, Father’s Day. One of those great summer traditions is seeing dear old dad standing at the grill, lording over his kingdom. Please don’t get too close! He knows it all when it comes to outdoor cooking. Let him have his day in the sun. He’s been cooped up like the rest of us for how many months during the pandemic. Many fathers out there can now cut loose and cook their hearts out. Is it going to be basic like burgers and dogs? Or many something classier like ribeye steaks? How about going all out and making dry rub ribs finished with a spicy glaze?

In many households, the father is the king of the grill. Where did this tradition begin? Centuries ago, (and even now in a handful of countries around the world), it was women who cooked the meats over fire. Fast forward to the 20th century. During the ‘50s when suburbs sprang up all over this country, the backyard barbecue became a “thing”. The women stayed indoors and cooked at the stove while the macho man stood at an open flame being, well, macho. As Rebecca Jennings wrote in June 2019 , “manning the grill is one of our most stubborn stereotypes.” Think about it –“manning the grill” just rolls off our tongues. A gender stereotype indeed that we still perpetuate. Meghan Casserly explained in Forbes magazine 2010 why men love grilling: “Grilling is sort of dangerous (there’s fire!), it lets dudes hang out together.”

My dad only knew the basics on the grill. Nothing fancy. He owned a children’s summer camp in northern Michigan, where he flipped burgers and hot dogs by the hundreds at the cookouts. He was a father figure to the campers, but was better known as Uncle Mickey. in the kitchen, his claim to fame was chili. His bragging rights to chili gave Dad license to tell everyone that he had taught me, the chef, everything I knew. I let him have his fun.

Ex-Fire Chief Dale’s splendid outdoor kitchen with both a grill and smoker

A new friend of mine, Dale, a former fire chief in Gilroy, Calif., became interested in barbecuing when he joined the fire department. In firehouses, firefighters typically rotate cooking duties. Most houses have a grill in their backyard or side yard.

Dale says he began grilling at home to “up his game” with the crew. In the early years, he had a smoker, a propane grill, and a briquet grill. But about five years ago, Dale and his wife built a complete beautiful poolside kitchen with a grill, smoker, burners, refrigerator, sink, the works. One can really get year-round use out of this kind of set-up when living in lovely California weather.

During the pandemic, grilling has been a relatively safe way to host friends. The importance of its social benefits in an isolated environment was enormous. It was great to get out of the house and visit with people. I was fortunate enough to attend a barbecue at Dale’s home during the pandemic, in fall, 2020. He expertly smoked baby back ribs, grilled vegetables, and grilled fish. That man can cook!

Some dads go beyond their outdoor grilling skills. Dr. Eric Greenberg, a cardiologist from Huntington Woods, Mich., moved into a new home last summer. The pièce de résistance for him was the wood-burning pizza oven in the backyard. Don’t get me wrong, Eric knows his way around the kitchen fairly well too. He was inspired as a young teen working for a caterer (that happened to be me!). Through college, he worked in restaurants. Married, with two young daughters, he does the meal planning, shopping and cooking. His wife, well, it’s just not her thing. As Eric tells it “We’d starve to death if it weren’t for me.” He is also quite territorial about his culinary domain.

This Father’s Day, Eric will be cooking individual pizzas in his outdoor oven. He has multiple peels, the flat wooden or steel paddles on which you build the pizza and take it in and out of the oven. This requires a multi-rack to set the peels on before they go in the oven. The pizza oven is 800°, so the cooking time is only 3-4 minutes, rotating every 90 seconds.

Eric’s signature pizza: lamb sausage, caramelized onions, smoked gouda with fresh sage and drizzled balsamic glaze
Eric’s signature pizza: lamb sausage, caramelized onions, smoked gouda with fresh sage and drizzled balsamic glaze

When each guest has his or her own pie, Eric can custom make the topping per their wishes. His children like plain cheese but adults go wild with combinations. Eric’s crowd favorite is caramelized onions, cooked and sliced lamb merguez sausage, topped with shredded smoked Gouda. The garnish is fresh sage leaves from the garden. There is always the classic Margarita pizza with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. Who doesn’t love pepperoni? And for the vegetarians in the crowd, anything goes. Eric precooks his vegetables, so he’ll be ready to go when the oven is cranked up 2-3 hours before pizza time.

The Insider would like to hear what topping combination you would love to have on your pizza if you are lucky enough to have a dad cook one for you on Sunday. If you are the dad, what’s on the menu this weekend?

Basic Pizza Dough

Yield: six 6" or four 8” pizzas

Grilled pesto pizza
Grilled pesto pizza

1 pkg. active dry yeast

1 tsp. sugar

1-1/3 c. lukewarm water (110°), divided

2 Tbs. olive oil

3 1/2 c. flour

2 tsp. kosher salt

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/3 c. lukewarm water. Allow to “sponge” or grow for 15 minutes. Mix in olive oil and remaining water.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour and salt. Pour in the liquid. Knead on medium until the dough comes together in a ball, about 3-5 minutes. If too dry, add a little more water. If too wet, add more flour.

Knead by hand for a minute, adding flour if necessary, to smooth out dough.

Grease a clean bowl. Put dough in bowl. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm place for at least an hour or until double in bulk.

Punch down. Knead lightly in the bowl. Divide dough into 6 or 4 balls, depending on the size of pizza that you want. Allow the balls to rest for 30 minutes before rolling out.

This method is for grilling: Roll out dough ball into the desired size. Brush a dinner plate with olive oil. Press and stretch the dough on the plate. Heat the grill to medium. Carefully transfer the dough onto the grill with the oil side down. Leave the lid open. After about 3 minutes or when the bottom crust is firm, turn heat down to low. Brush the top with oil. Using sturdy tongs, flip the pizza. Quickly apply toppings. The pictured pizza has pesto, tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and onions, topped with grated Parmesan. Close the lid. Cook until heated through and bottom crust is browned, about 5-7 minutes.

Yeast “sponging” in lukewarm water
Yeast “sponging” in lukewarm water
Dough forming a ball around the dough hook in the mixer
Dough forming a ball around dough hook in the mixer
Dough has doubled in size after rising
Dough has doubled in size after rising
Punch down dough with your fist
Punch down dough with your fist
Form into individual rounds for each pizza crust
Form into individual rounds for each pizza crust


Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.



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