Congratulations to Jim Beckenbach for Winning the June 2022 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

Summer is coming to the Northern Hemisphere… Describe in detail your favorite summer meal. Is it a barbecue? a picnic? homemade ice cream for dinner? Tell us about the feast!

Jim’s essay is bound to make your mouth water while sparking memories of happy, lazy summers. Enjoy his winning submission:

Nothing says summer quite like a barbecue with family and friends.

And nothing says “barbecue” quite like the smell of woodsmoke. Not charcoal, and certainly not gas. The wondrous scent of oak being licked by flame. The sizzling sound of well-marbled steak as it’s kissed by wispy orange tentacles of Prometheus’ gift. The fragrance, thick in the air as it permeates every fiber of the meat.

You have to be careful, though, because fire is fickle and she has a temper. Disrespect her at your own risk. Coax her gently, building her heat just enough to sear the outside of your marbled beauties, and then move them off to the side and let her rest. Be sure not to poke them. That’s a rookie mistake made by many as they pierce the meat with a fork. Tongs are best. The outer sear should be left unbroken to seal in the juices.

The steaks naturally tend to get most of the glory, but the sides have an appeal of their own if properly done. They will have gone into the heat, but not directly over the flame, well before the steaks to ensure they are good and tender. What better to go with steaks than corn on the cob and baked potatoes? Wrapped in foil individually with a dab of butter inside so they’ll be nicely steamed and buttery with a hint of smoke flavor when you take them out.

Of course, with it being summer, not everything in the meal should be hot. With that in mind, the meal is rounded out by a cool, crisp salad with the dressing of choice and an ice-cold beverage.

Everyone gathers at tables in the shady retreat of a screened-in porch with burgeoning plates, caressed by a gentle breeze. Adults settle in to savor their meal and good conversation as impatient children tear through the food on their plates as quickly as possible so they can return to playing. There’s a sprinkler running in the yard, and the children busy themselves dashing through the water with delighted squeals and peals of laughter.

After a while, as the children have begun to wear themselves out and the adults have finally finished the last of their plates, the host appears with wedges of sweet, succulent watermelon chilled to near freezing. Conversation mostly gives way to sounds of slurping and munching, punctuated by the sweet sounds of birdsong.

This is summer.

Summer at its best.