Posted by: cassymuronaka | November 22, 2009

A case of the canine crazies

There’s a reason that one of my dogs is not-always fondly called “Barbecue Head.” During fragrant 45-minute outdoor chicken roasts, she routinely used to peer up the air vent on my old Weber grill, hoping for the occasional dollop of sauce that might slide its way down the side of the kettle and land on her tongue.

More often than not, the sauce hit the top of the animal’s head, right above her eyes. And that is why we have always kept a wet towel next to the grill.

Yesterday, we moved into uncharted territory with both of my two dogs, when my blossoming skill at slowly roasting meats in my new barrel drum resulted in a kind of canine insanity.

Trying to get a leg up on a Texas-themed Thanksgiving, I had spent the day feeding Mesquite chunks to a 200-degree barrel full of pork shoulders and beef ribs. The idea was to cook the meat, cool it, freeze it, and painlessly reheat it on the Big Day.

Despite the fact that winter finally has arrived in Southern California, and it was a rather chilly day, both Red Dog and Lola spent it alertly parked on the cold, shaded patio near the smoker.

As the ribs slowly browned, they melted off a phenomenal amount of grease, which trickled down to a release spout where I had not placed a catch-cup, because none of my previous efforts have required this kind of mess-preventing measure.

Shortly before dusk, I emerged from the kitchen for one of my hourly checks on the smoker temperature. There I was greeted by two dogs who looked like someone had poured candle wax on top of and down the sides of their heads.

There was so much cold, congealed fat on their craniums that all I would have had to do to fashion both of them with striking Mohawk hairdos was just start working the fur to the center of their heads with my two hands.

This god-awful mess apparently was created by the two beasts working in tandem, taking turns lapping at the dripping grease, none of which made it to the shelf below the spout on the drum.

Normally, these dogs sparkle. They clean themselves like cats, and almost never receive baths, the latter of which always have been provided by a veterinary assistant on those rare occasions when the dogs are boarded for a weekend or so.

Not so this Saturday. With the sun and the air temperature rapidly plunging, my little nuclear family grabbed bottles of Dawn Detergent – it’s what animal experts use to clean oil-slicked birds – and armfuls of garage towels. After snapping on a pair of latex gloves, I began squeezing off the hardened fat, and then scrubbing Lola down while my husband kept her gripped on a leash and used a washcloth to block sensitive ears and eyes from soapy liquid.

My son really had the worst job. For about 45 minutes straight, he had to methodically cross the backyard and march in and out of the kitchen, filling up and delivering warm gallon buckets of water, like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

This story does not end with large damp dogs still smelling of smoke and old mohair sweaters.

Before all of us ran inside to change into dry, warm clothing, my husband suspended a Styrofoam cup below the barbecue barrel, to trap grease that might still be dripping.

A bit later, a friend came by to claim a pork shoulder that I had been promising to him all summer. His timing was superb. An insta-read meat thermometer had just clocked the smallest roast at a perfect 185. As my friend and I discussed the merits of the barbecue sauce I had simmering in the kitchen, I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye. Red Dog had slithered silently out of the dog door, after which she had gently removed the Styrofoam drip cup with her teeth. As I slowly turned around, I saw her happily begin to lick the grease that had begun to drop onto the shelf below.



  1. i LOL’d! no. 1 looks like an otter.

    • We have often commented on her otterlike look when her head is wet.

  2. I love this story on all kinds of levels. I love dogs and their single-minded pursuit of food.

    It reminds me of a story my ex-girlfriend Beverly once told about two Dobermans, Jodi and Maria. Beverly had baked eight breaded chicken breasts and let them cool for a few minutes on a counter after removing them from the oven. The dogs — who had the run of the house — went in the kitchen, noted that there was no human in sight and ate all 8 chicken breasts, then went out to the backyard. Beverly was stunned a few minutes later when she discovered NO CHICKEN BREASTS. Not even a particle of chicken left. She told me that she confronted the dogs but they acted like nothing had happened — “What chicken breasts? We don’t know what you’re talking about, man!”

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