Jonathan Bender is a local food writer, author, and winner of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association’s Media Person of the Year. His work has appeared across Kansas City, including his book, Cookies & Beer, and his BBQ documentary, Burnt Legend: The Story of Burnt Ends, which aired on KCPT. Bender recently wrote a piece about grilled corn salsa in celebration of National BBQ Month and has graciously allowed The Story Center to share it.
The Story Center Program Manager
It feels like I am always waiting for something right now. I am waiting for news. I am waiting to go outside. I am waiting.
I was never a patient kid. I had trouble sitting still. Time seemed to stop when there was something in the future I wanted. I’m a slightly more patient adult. And one of the reasons I am patient is barbecue.
You can’t rush barbecue. It’s ready in its own time. There are too many factors out of your control. Barbecue is ready when it’s ready. And you have to give yourself over to that fact or you’re setting yourself up for a series of disappointments.
I got a grill three days after I moved to Kansas City, Missouri. I put it together a week after it showed up in our backyard. Then, my wife put it together properly.
The grill helped me feel like I belonged even if I had no idea exactly what to do with it. But gas grills are forgiving (I hope you will also forgive me for using gas instead of charcoal). At the time, a steak seemed like a leap of faith I wasn’t ready to make. And ribs were something that a pitmaster cooked.
Even the sides felt aspirational.
Since I’m laying myself bare about barbecue, I’ll also confess that I didn’t know about Missouri corn. I didn’t understand how summer here revolves around two sweet poles: peaches and corn. I made the discovery 13 years ago in early June, when the whole aisle—the whole aisle—beckoned me in with a delicate perfume.
The first thing I ever set on a barbecue was six foil-wrapped ears of corn. I kept thinking the corn would be done. I would open the lid of the grill, letting out all the heat in the process. Barbecue can’t be rushed.
When the corn was finally ready, I held the tops of the ears and shaved off the kernels with a knife too big for the job, just as my dad had done when I was a kid. The corn was sweet and slightly charred in places.
I mixed the kernels with red onion, tomatoes, jalapeño, lime, salt, pepper, and cilantro from our backyard garden. Then I set the bowl in the fridge for an hour to let the flavors marry.
At some point, I forgot to be intimidated by grilling corn or meat. Corn salsa became the standard side dish we brought to parties and picnics. I looked forward to seeing a glass bowl full of specks of red, green, and yellow in the fridge, because that meant that we were headed to be with friends or family.
So now I hope that I can wait again. That I can wait for the corn to be grilled. And I can wait for the corn salsa to be right. Because that means that I’ll be with the ones I love in a backyard or park again.
What a cool story. It was short and fun to read, thank you! I also laughed when you talked about your wife putting the grill together properly after you.
From Nicole (not verified)
Tue, 05/19/2020 - 02:42pm