By Jamie Balke
Explorebigsky.com Columnist

Flaming burgers: a vegetarian’s story

I enjoy attending barbeques, but it wasn’t until last summer that I transformed from a semi-reluctant attendee to an aspiring grill master. I’m a vegetarian.

Barbeques, for me, typically mean the host makes a big fuss out of a situation that could be remedied with a frozen veggie burger. They often hand me a grilled portabella that has been painstakingly seasoned. While I appreciate this thoughtful and generous gesture, I also always feel like a bit of a bother.

In response, when I host a meal I try to provide a meat option. Somewhere along the line last summer, this turned into barbeque fever.

I can’t explain it, but I love grilling hamburgers. I’m not talking about the frozen ones.

Aside from consumption, I get involved in the whole process: puttering around the ground beef section at the grocery store searching for the perfect fat ratio, seasoning, fashioning the patties, preparing a good bed of charcoal in my tiny grill, and shuffling the burgers around inconsistent heat pockets.

I’ve been told the results of these efforts are tasty. I enjoy the experience, and under my brother’s guidance, I hope one day I’ll know by smell when the burgers are done.

For me and the other vegetarians, I normally stick to premade veggie burgers, as the one time I attempted tofu was an epic failure.

From time to time, my brother lets me use his grill, which is 100 times more awesome than mine. Not only is it gigantic in comparison, but it has a thermometer and a crank that you can use to raise or lower the coals.

There have been some bumps along the way. Because my porch is uncovered and faces west, it becomes unreasonably hot around dinnertime. In an effort to improve conditions, I purchased an umbrella, which only occasionally takes flight in the wind. Chasing after it is all part of the Jamie Balke barbeque experience.

Another highlight last summer was learning to have hot charcoal before putting the food on the grill. Before I knew the importance of this, I once put the meat on before the coals were adequately hot. Fearful of dumping the burgers while moving the grill, I decided to add lighter fluid without first moving the food. I begged guests not to eat the burgers accidentally seasoned with a dash of the lighter fluid, but they assured me they were fine. I guess that’s what friends are for.

This summer, Jamie Balke hopes to successfully grill peaches and steaks.