The Right Tool

For years my mother cooked on a gas range. It had a built-in broiler, with a burner located on the underside of its cover and was opened by turning a handle, which opened the lid and lifted the cooking tray. On that tray my father broiled everything from chicken to lamb chops; all of which turned out uniformly gray and tasteless.

When I was eight-years-old, my brother, home for a weekend visit from college, announced that he was going to cook steaks for our Saturday night dinner. That afternoon he arrived with our first charcoal grill. After setting it up, he opened the hinged top and exposed a stacked pair of shiny, chromed, steel, grid surfaces. He removed the top grid and on the bottom one he piled black lumps of charcoal into a neat pyramid. Applying lighter fluid, he lit the fire and when the coals turned white he grilled the steaks. It was a revelation! Instead of gray, tasteless meat, we ate steak as it was meant to be cooked: charred on the outside, pink in the middle and full of flavor.

Determined to demonstrate the cooking skills he had learned, the next weekend my father invited friends Hartley and Marian Davis for dinner. After replicating how my brother had lit the fire the previous Saturday he and Hartley retired inside for a cocktail. Thirty minutes later, dad piled steaks on a platter, grudgingly put on the “cute” apron my mother had purchased for him and headed outside to cook; only to find the fire had gone out.

Not one to give up and concluding that he needed more fuel, he pushed the cold lumps of charcoal aside and then rearranged them on top of a newspaper. This time he sprayed lighter fluid on the newspaper as well as the charcoal and when the paper was blazing, he filed back inside for another cocktail.

Thirty minutes later he and Hartley were again staring at a lifeless pile of charcoal. My dad was going to try again until his friend told him that he was too hungry and had too many cocktails to wait any longer. So, he served broiled, gray tasteless steaks and began his battle with lighting charcoal fires.

From charcoal stored in a canning jar filled with lighter fluid to an electric fire starter, over the years my father searched for the perfect fire starter. Once I found him with a blowtorch patiently lighting one lump of charcoal at a time; another time he piled charcoal on top of pine kindling – which worked but the meat tasted like resin and still later he nearly blew up the garage experimenting with gasoline. It was a battle he fought from that first failure to the day he died.

A couple of years ago, while we were building our current home, Terri and I rented a house. Having left our gas grill behind, I purchased a small, round, charcoal grill. When shopping for the grill, a salesman mentioned that I should also buy a charcoal chimney: a light metal, round tube with a handle on one side and a plate with holes near the bottom. He explained that by filling it with charcoal and placing and lighting newspaper under the bottom plate, you could create an easy and perfect fire. I was skeptical but gave it a try and found out he was right; it worked perfect. Now, every time I light a fire, I think of my dad’s fire struggles and laugh.

The right tool can make a job, such as lighting a charcoal fire, easy. Over the years there have been numerous times that I have “made do” with a tool that just didn’t work. Just recently, as I was rearranging my desk, I realized that my Rolodex was full and crammed with cards of people who have moved on to other jobs. It was unusable; so, I bit the bullet and transferred the information to the address book on my computer. Now, since the information is automatically synced to my iPhone, I can access it whenever and wherever I am; my desk is less cluttered, and I am more productive.

My father-in-law had a woodworking shop that would be the equal of any commercial establishment. From a 72 inch band saw to a 36 inch planer, he had every tool necessary to build anything out of wood. My mother-in-law made do with ancient, inexpensive pots and pans and knives that would barely cut a tomato. Tool man that he was, he failed to recognize the necessity of having good kitchen tools.

Often we fail to provide others with the tools they need to do their job.  Often overlooked as a tool, knowledge and training are important for productive colleagues and employees. Knowledge is also an important tool that can be provided to clients. By providing product knowledge and value engineering tools, a salesperson can increase customer profitability and his or her sales.

So, whenever you light a charcoal fire, remember that success requires having and providing the right tools for the job.


Man is a tool-using animal. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.” -Thomas Carlyle

One response to “The Right Tool

  1. Amen, brother. I’m in the grill business and we invented our own equipment because I wanted tools to grill on that matched the quality of tools that I used in my shop, my kitchen and my life. A proper tool is truly a revelation. If you are interested in our grill, google german grill. It’s expensive, but how do you put a price on a perfect steak every time?

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