T

HE FOLLOWING is excerpted from a letter by a loyal reader who took exception to my willingness to allow my wife to grill on Memorial Day.

Dear Mr. Jones,

The two items that make the barbecue sacred male domain are firmly stamped in Y chromosome DNA - fire, and red meat. These things make the barbecue pit a MALE bastion . . . not to mention the Male Gene Union meetings, complete with beer consumption, sports talk and rude bodily noises jokes.

Tell ya what I can do, Mr. Jones - as an award-winning chef, I can teach you some of the mysteries of the Backyard Pit. I'll even throw in one of my copyrighted recipes.

If it helps you reclaim the backyard barbecue in time for the rest of the summer, it will be worth it.

Cordially in Brotherhood,

Bill Hollis

South Philadelphia

Mr. Hollis,

I thought I was doing the whole male thing by buying the food and setting the rules.

When I said that there would be no pets (I dine on animals, not with them), no swimsuits (I don't want to see cellulite while I'm eating), and no foil (If Cousin BoBo and them want plates, they should show up), I was exercising dominion over the backyard.

However, your macho view of grilling showed me the error of my ways. It made me re-examine my place in the battle of the sexes. It helped me to appreciate the history of male-female conflict.

Adam and Eve duked it out in the garden. Fred and Wilma took the fight to the quarry. The Honeymooners rumbled in a big-city walk-up. The Huxtables fought in suburbia.

In 2008, the fight continues, and like it or not, I'm part of it. These days, it's not over an apple. It ain't about a Brontosaurus burger, either. The loser won't get one - pow! - right in the kisser. And the winner won't be rockin' one of Cosby's college sweat shirts.

The beef in 2008 is about one thing and one thing only - barbecue. That's why I canceled the Memorial Day barbecue, armed myself with a pair of tongs and started training for my grilling debut.

There's just one problem, Mr. Hollis. I'm one of the worst cooks I know.

Sure, I make some pretty good nachos during football season. The rest of my repertoire? Well, I can put mustard on fried bologna and butter on toast. I've mastered Aunt Jemima Complete pancakes, and in a pinch I can time microwave popcorn just right. Unfortunately, my cooking-related successes pale in comparison to my mishaps.

I've boiled water until it evaporated. I've freezer-burned gallons of ice cream. I've scorched popcorn in the microwave. I've turned Pop Tarts into crispy critters.

So it's hard for me to see how I can possibly beat LaVeta at grilling before summer's end. But if it is my duty as a man to step up and do what I must to reclaim backyard glory, then I am prepared to sacrifice myself on the barbecue battlefield.

BEFORE YOU join me in this epic battle, Mr. Hollis, you need to know what we're up against. My wife is a certified foodie who owns a full set of Le Creuset pots. She watches "America's Test Kitchen" every week, wakes up in cold sweats from food dreams, and goes to book signings for cookbook authors.

Me? I burn stuff.

If you are willing to train me, however, Mr. Hollis, I'm willing to throw down the gauntlet.

I hereby challenge my wife to a barbecue cook-off, with weapons of her choosing - chicken or steak, spatulas or tongs, charcoal or gas.

We meet at dawn in the backyard. Each of us will be allowed one aide. You will be mine, Mr. Hollis. I just pray my wife doesn't bring in my mom. If she does, we can chalk it up as a loss. But at least we'll get some good barbecue out of the deal. *

Solomon Jones appears every Saturday. He can be reached at