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For McCain, a Different Kind of Grilling

By Michael D. Shear
PAGE SPRINGS, Ariz. -- If he loses the presidency, Sen. John McCain will have a career as a weekend barbecue chef to fall back on.

At his weekend cabin just outside Sedona on Sunday afternoon, McCain took a break from campaigning and grilled baby-back ribs and chicken for three dozen reporters, some staffers and a few friends from the Senate.

Dressed in jeans, an L.L. Bean baseball cap, sunglasses and a white sweat shirt with a cheesy picture of his family on the front, McCain held court as he does almost daily aboard the Straight Talk Express.

Except this time, it was about meat.

Ribs, to be specific. He gets 'em at Costco -- the big slabs of pork ribs. And he slaps them on the grill at the lowest possible temperature. Any hotter, he says, and the meat cooks too fast.

His secret recipe is a dry-rub concoction that consists of one-third salt, one-third pepper and one-third garlic powder -- and he pours it on. But the real trick, he says, is the fresh lemon juice that he squeezes onto the ribs repeatedly. Keeps 'em juicy.

The afternoon barbecue for the press was on the record -- sort of.
Tape recorders were prohibited (though a few popped up.) Pictures were not allowed for publication. There were no television cameras. And McCain's aides kept urging reporters to put away the notebooks.

The idea, McCain said, was to allow reporters to get to know him and his staff under less stressful circumstances. (The fact that the press spent the weekend at a resort called Enchantment where many sipped wine and enjoyed lengthy deep-tissue massages probably contributed to that feeling.) In addition to the press, Sen. Lindsay Graham, McCain's best friend in the Senate, was there, as was former Texas senator Phil Gramm, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Charlie Black, McCain's top political adviser.

In addition to the ribs, McCain grilled chicken, while a caterer added hot dogs, pasta salads, beef tamales, hamburgers and sausages. For dessert, the assembled crowd munched on cookies and brownies.

McCain's cabin sits in a canyon along the Oak Creek, which was running fast Sunday, McCain explained, thanks to the snow melt from Flagstaff. McCain owns several other houses on the property, which stretches along both sides of the creek.

There's also a fishing pond -- home to a 20-pound catfish McCain says routinely finds a way to snap his fishing line.
And there's a nest of black hawks just past the tire swing. One year, McCain said he watched as the mother hawk taught her baby to fly.

A little farther on is a dying limb of a tree covered with little holes. McCain called it a "woodpecker condominium."

If McCain wins the presidency, his property here will no doubt become the latest presidential retreat -- the equivalent of Ronald Reagan's Santa Barbara ranch, George W. Bush's place in Crawford, or the first President Bush's Maine retreat. Bill Clinton didn't have a property like that but managed to vacation at the Vineyard with friends frequently.

Inside his cabin, McCain has Navajo rugs on the walls and floors, a powered telescope, and a large painting of the Grand Canyon. One wall is covered with editorial cartoons. Others have pictures of his family.

McCain's aides said the three-hour gathering was intended as a "social event," not a glorified press conference. And by and large reporters agreed to those rules, asking him substantive questions only a few times.

The lighthearted mood is likely to fade quickly if he gets enough delegates to lay claim to his party's nomination in contests in Texas and Ohio on Tuesday. As the nominee, he will almost certainly be on, rather than overseeing, the grill.

By Post Editor  |  March 2, 2008; 8:11 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , John McCain , Primaries , The GOP  
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