Memo to the nice men and women who order merchandise for northern Vermont groceries: We are not all wimps. Got that?

Now get on the horn, call your supplier and tell them you want weekly shipments of 20-pound bags of charcoal briquettes until May.

There remains in Vermont a healthy population of year-round charcoal barbecuers. As immediate past president of Briquets 52, a political action committee dedicated to grilling outdoors over real charcoal every weekend of the year, I know I speak for thousands of concerned grillmasters. That may be an exaggeration. I'm the only member of Briquets 52 that I know of.

But we (I) are (am) dedicated to assuring our members (me) of a reliable, year-round supply of briquettes.

Two significant obstacles stand in our path.

First of all, the weather in Vermont is not frequently conducive to outdoor grilling. The weekend just past was just the ninth of the year with no precipitation detected by the National Weather Service monitors in South Burlington. There have been 36 weekends in 2006 with moisture, which makes grilling a challenge. Wimps are easily cowed by such conditions, and by the fact that 28 to 30 Vermont weekends per year are ostensibly too frosty for pleasant grilling. We are not, however, all wimps.

Some of us don't mind wearing slickers, or parkas and insulated sealskin boots as we huddle over the glowing briquettes to get the only real barbecue flavor worth swallowing. Small price to pay for a nice cut of swordfish steak expertly sizzled over charcoal. The rest poke their noses outside and if the noses get wet, or turn red and sniffle, rethink dinner plans and reach for the tofu.

A second significant obstacle to year-round charcoal grilling is the advent and inexplicable popularity of propane gas grills.

As recently as 1994, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, charcoal grills outsold gas grills in the United States, 6.3 million grills to 5.9 million grills. Since then, the gas grills have gained the upper hand in sales.

Still, charcoal is no mere afterthought: In 2005, consumers burned 680,000 tons of charcoal beneath their shish kebobs. They painstakingly kindled fires, patiently waited for the coals to ash over and then manipulated complex systems of vents and levers to cut or increase air supply and to raise or lower the meal. In sleet and freezing rain if necessary.

The rest, technically referred to as "wimps," stood in garages and breezeways, clicked a button or two, waited for rocks to heat and then cooked. They didn't grill. They cooked -- over a petroleum product, mind you. Dues-paying Briquets 52 members cook over a renewable wood product.

During the abnormally dry weekend past, I stopped at the grocery for -- among other things -- a bag of charcoal. Not finding any, I asked a store employee where I might find some. He looked at me as if I'd just asked where I should look for an acre of fresh-cut sorghum on which to pasture my gelding. At the seafood counter, I was told there would be no salmon steaks for a while because nobody grills at this time of year.

This is flat-out discrimination against the members (me) of influential Briquets 52.

Where once there was charcoal on the shelves, there are now factory-made fire-starter logs. Any Vermonter caught using factory-made fire-starter logs is subject to deportation. Any Vermonter cooking outside over charcoal briquettes 52 weekends per year deserves the Governor's Medal of Courage and Freedom.

Which do you stock, Mr. and Mrs. Grocery Order Person?

We are not all wimps, you know.

Ed Shamy's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Burlington Free Press. Contact him at 660-1862 or