“I think something is burning…I think something is burning…”

The following accounts are true.  The names have been changed to protect the guilty.  This week we present the culinary offenses of two brothers for your consideration.  No partners in crime, they committed their transgressions independently and inadvertently decades ago.  Despite having moved on to competency in the kitchen, the siblings have not forgotten what they once did, nor have they ever stopped arguing about it.  At issue is the question of whose kitchen mishap is the stupidest.  As both jury and judge, you will see for yourself that there exists no debate whatsoever as to whether each unfortunate cooking decision was stupid, for you will soon observe that this is a given.  Rather, you must weigh their relative stupidity.

The defendants would prefer that you take into account their youth and inexperience in the kitchen before rendering a verdict.  They were raised in a coddled and protective environment by a generous and solicitous mother who saw to it that they were provided with delicious and nutritious meals on a daily basis.  Thus, when left to fend for themselves at ages somewhere between late adolescence and early adulthood, they encountered what the general public might think of as common kitchen situations for the very first time.  In the spirit of fairness and impartiality, and to spare them further embarrassment, you shall learn of their crimes without direct reference to their age at the time of the incidents.  Nevertheless, the defendents reiterate their pitiable excuse that their actions were understandable because they were young and inexperienced, and hereafter they submit themselves to the mercy of the court.

Incident Number One occurred at approximately —– on the evening of —–, when the defendant, Emeril Lagasp, experienced hunger pangs while watching Helen Hunt in a broadcast of the TV movie Quarterback Princess.  Repairing to the kitchen, he examined the contents of the refrigerator and freezer before at last retrieving a frozen pizza.  Mr. Lagasp was undaunted by the fact that he had never before prepared a frozen pizza, reasoning that any boob is capable of following the brief and uncomplicated directions printed on the box.  To this end, he duly preheated the oven until a commercial break, whereupon he removed said pizza from its box, stripped away its plastic outerwrap, and placed it directly upon the center oven rack as recommended in the printed instructions.  Mr. Lagasp then set the timer for the specified interval and returned to the living room to resume watching television.

According to the defendant, his first inkling that something might be amiss was caused by repeated utterances of “I think something is burning” by his grandmother, whom he dismissed partly due to her senility and partly due to his stubborn refusal to give her the satisfaction of being right.  Within minutes, however, it become undeniably obvious that something had gone wrong, as an acrid stench permeated the living room and the smoke alarm sounded.  Mr. Lagasp reports being confused by these developments, as they occurred only halfway through the recommended cooking time, and he was certain that he had set the oven at the correct temperature.

Upon entering the kitchen and opening the oven door, Mr. Lagasp discovered multiple tendrils of melted cheese and various toppings descending from underneath the pizza, oozing through the center rack and contacting the bottom surface of the oven, causing said elements to congeal in a burnt, black mass.  As the defendant’s grandmother heightened the drama with cries of distress and subtle, passive-aggressive gloating, Mr. Lagasp had a sudden revelation.  He recalled the moment he initially removed the pizza from its box and noted the thick shell of frozen cheese that obscured its toppings.  Mr. Lagasp remembered thinking this was odd, but having never before prepared such an item, he assumed this was what the top of a frozen pizza looked like while still in its frozen state.  Now staring at the smoking mess in the oven, the defendant realized and painfully acknowledged that he had placed the pizza into the oven upside-down.

Incident Number Two took place sometime on the evening of —–, as the defendant, Wolfgang Schmuck, was enjoying a brief out-of-town stay with relatives.  Mr. Schmuck states that he took it upon himself to prepare a small meal intended for his own consumption.  He is unclear about many of the details, which attending psychiatrists have attributed to either repressive memory loss as a coping mechanism or the defendant’s general lack of observational skills.  In any case, Mr. Schmuck is certain that the foodstuffs he desired required cooking, prompting him to search throughout the unfamiliar kitchen for the appropriate utensils and a suitable pan.  He soon encountered a rectangular pan with convenient handles attached at either end.  The large cooking surface was more than ample for his purposes, and having thusly acquired all necessary materials, he set about at once to prepare his meal.

There was a small amount of difficulty in commencing the cooking, as the pan was unconventionally equipped with a quartet of squat legs that elevated its cooking surface by approximately one inch.  However, Mr. Schmuck overcame this inconvenience by carefully placing the pan on the stovetop such that it straddled a gas burner.  By adjusting the burner setting accordingly, he was able to produce an adequate flame that contacted the bottom of the cooking surface.

To the defendant’s credit, he rapidly ascertained that something was not quite right.  For as he prodded his meal with a spatula, he noticed that not only did the pan have handles and legs, it also sported a rectangular, metallic protuberance from one end.  It occurred to Mr. Schmuck at this moment that he was looking at a receptacle that might accommodate a small thermostat that could in turn be plugged into an electrical outlet.  That would mean, of course, that the four-legged pan contained its own heating element, making the use of an external heat source unnecessary and possibly even dangerous.  Mr. Schmuck immediately turned off the burner as it dawned on him that the foreign pan was, in fact, an electric skillet.

Ladies and gentlemen, the defense rests its cases and awaits your verdict.  The defendants agree to shut up once and for all about the matter after the impartial public has spoken.  You are hereby entrusted to resolve this long-debated question.  Baking a frozen pizza upside-down or placing an electric skillet atop an open burner:  which is stupider?