Editor’s note: An article calling grilling “the domain of Dude” got me a little hot under the collar. It’s since been taken down, but here’s why I got so fired up.
I lived in a fifth-floor New York City walk-up apartment with no yard when I started getting the itch to put food to flame. I was drawn to it like a moth, for reasons I couldn’t quite grasp, and which now smolder at the core of my food-loving soul.
Whenever my friend Ali was out of town, I’d let myself onto her back deck to fire up her kettle grill after watering her plants. Since I took pains to replace the charcoal and scrub the grate as cleanly as I could manage, she was kind enough to issue me a key.
I do not come from a grilling people; flame-licked patties, chops and chickens are not my birthright.
My parents, sister and I hauled skillet-grayed burgers and broiler-blistered hot dogs out to the sunless cement patio on holidays. Once my parents finally caved in to suburbanity and picked up a grill, I was already deep into sullen teenhood (and anything that involved fresh air and sunlight). I recall my father - a brilliant scientist and adventurous cook - attempting to flame-cook a batch of frozen french fries in a perforated foil pouch. It was...a noble attempt.
My mother’s twin sister - the only family member in possession of a grill - was afraid of the darn thing. She’d force a spatula and tongs into the hands of any visitor with a Y-chromosome; my sister and I sometimes had to explain to a visiting boyfriend that, no, this wasn’t some odd Sicilian test of virility he had to pass to stay in the family’s favor. (A drag queen friend of mine tamed those flames in heels, pearls, an apron, and a blaze of authority.)
I hit a seven-year vegetarian jag when I turned 19, and throughout college and grad school, would show up to cookouts clutching sad little packets of cut-up vegetable chunks, seasoned with salt and pepper and a thin slather of whatever oil was cheapest at the Super Fresh that month. I’d hand the packet to whomever was manning the grate and wait to be handed back a pouch of steamed glop that I’d eat with as much gusto as a starving, self-serious art student could muster.
The masters degree I was fueling myself through, by the way, was in metalsmithing. I am neither thrilled nor cowed by an open flame - if anything, it just feels as comforting as cool air to me. I’d just never been privy to the alchemy that occurs when fire kisses meat and chars the edge of vegetables and summons the most bewitching flavors known to mortal man. Cooking (especially in the big, mostly yard-free city where I moved after graduation) was for the stove and, sadly, the microwave. It was most definitely an indoor sport - and so far as I'd ever seen, only dudes could play in the outdoor leagues.
It was a piece of fruit –and a little bit of kind instruction - that finally compelled me to try it for myself. Two friends of mine settled into a ground-level apartment with a yard, perfect for entertaining.
One night after dinner, I watched as one of our hosts, Pete, pulled out what looked like a section of air duct with a handle bolted to the side. He carefully lined the bottom with newspaper, filled the top with chunks of black wood and set the whole mess ablaze from below.
But at the peak of the inferno, he didn’t dump the whole shebang into the Weber kettle in an effort to bring hellfire to innocent foodstuffs. He waited patiently for the fire to wane into an orange, ash-coated glow, tipped it into the grill with a little spark and not much fanfare, and placed peach halves face down on the oiled grate above them.
Until that point, I’d only ever witnessed well-meaning, weekend warriors flicking switches to summon gas flames, or dousing noxious lighter fluid over pillow-shaped briquettes. This was artful - and entailed the use of tools to boot - and the results were inarguable. After he pulled the softened, hash-marked peach halves off the grate, he scooped vanilla ice cream into each and ground a few flecks of black pepper on top.
Dessert was served with minor fanfare, knee-buckling flavor, and not even a hint of the acrid flavor I’d always associated with grilled food. I needed more of this in my life.
From then on, Pete was generous enough to indulge my rookie questions and with access to Ali’s grill, I worked my way from fruit to vegetables to fish to chicken parts to whole animal heads. I flamed through my fair share of flare-ups, overdone food and minor injuries, but somehow along the way, it became my go-to method of cooking and I was reborn as something of a grilling evangelist.
These days I’m rarely happier than when I’m spending hours slow-smoking a brisket, feeding the results to friends and neighbors, and empowering other people to adopt outdoor cooking as part of their arsenal. My first job in food writing was as Grilling editor for AOL’s food section, and that’s sparked a career in which I get to write about mastering brisket and ribs, triage grilling ills, and celebrate the bounty of the season with vegetables that people might not think of laying on a grate.
I regret the two and a half decades I spent thinking that somehow grilling was off-limits to me, for reasons of gender, locale, dietary restrictions or budget. I suppose that's what upset me about that dude-centric article: the notion that any cooking method would be the domain of any particular group, and that some young woman might read it and assume that her father, brother, uncle, boyfriend, guy pal or any random fellow might somehow be better equipped for the task.
So far as I'm concerned, the more hands on spatulas, the more tasty grilled food there will be for all of us to eat. Can't we all just grill along?
The Southern Foodways Alliance was kind enough to share a few of their favorite women who aren't afraid to play with fire:
Helen Turner of Helens' Bar-B-Q - Brownsville, Tennessee
Susie Headrick of Green Top BBQ in Dora, Alabama
Ashley Christensen of the Fatback Collective barbecue team and AC Restaurants in Raleigh, North Carolina
Desiree Robinson of Cozy Corner BBQ - Memphis, Tennessee
Elizabeth Karmel of Girls at the Grill Hill Country Barbecue, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Achieve Grilling Greatness
– Grate balls of fire? Not on our watch.
– Help! My neighbors stink at grilling!
– C'mon baby, light my fire – just don't skimp on the flavor
– Up your grilling game
– Red hot grilling tips from Eatocracy readers
– 5 grilling mistakes – and how to fix them
– Advice from killer grillers
– Grilling: A love story
– Why girls should grill
– Burgers – a step-by-step guide
– Best. Burgers. EVER and Best. Cheeseburger. EVER
– Dean Martin's Bourbon Burgers
– Buffalo sliders and fried chicken that raises the bar
– Slider battle!
– Big, bad burgers from around the country
– Food & Wine's favorite burgers
– Top 10 burgers in the United States
– Make a brilliant pork butt
– Five slices of barbecue wisdom
– Five tips for hot dog success
– How to smoke a brisket in your backyard
– Rack up on rib pointers
– Take a stab at a slab – an intro to ribs
– Five steps to steak supremacy
– Hearts afire! Liver, marrow, kidneys and more great offal for the grill
– Whole hog BBQ - the Mount Everest of Meat
– Five cuts of meat to buy and grill
– A prime rib primer
– Lobster roll 101
– What every carnivore should know
– Best potato salad we've ever had
– How to grill corn
– Grilled pizza basics
– All about cole slaw
– The art of the deviled egg
– Ultimate grilled okra
– The only salad that matters right now
– A vegetarian may show up at your cookout. Do not be alarmed.
The Art of Outdoor Dining
– Don't get sick from your picnic! A food safety primer
– 10 Commandments of cookout etiquette
– Grilling by the numbers
– Make your tailgate a touchdown
– 5 picnic no-nos
– How to use grilling leftovers
– Bring your indoor favorite to the great outdoors
– Make a Mexican-inspired outdoor feast
Read all about barbecue
Cool story, bro. Or Sis, whatever.
I grew up in Argentina and grilling is a very important part of Argentine culture. My mom was better than my dad at grilling, although after so many years married to her, he became pretty good too. Grilling makes me happy and relaxes me.
No woman can beat me at BBQ. Not one. That's all there is to it.
I grew up in a family where only my mom was the master of the grill! My dad made valiant efforts time and time again (one time, he lit the grill with the cover down and then, in a spectacular blaze of light, managed to burn off his eyebrows); only now, after 20 years of practice, can he live up to the precedence she had set.
good article, got to try pork butt (shoulder), as good as brisket, but different, 12 plus hours on my Big Green Egg, yummi
Sarah Palin is back on Fox News, proving once again she's the turd that won't flush. Her daughter Bristol is not much better. And then there's that tard baby.
Nice article. I too love the sizzle of the grill. ps – the photo of the little girl at the top looks just like my daughter when she was 3. cute.
"the notion that any cooking method would be the domain of any particular group, and that some young woman might read it and assume that her father, brother, uncle, boyfriend, guy pal or any random fellow might somehow be better equipped for the task."
Your life must be so hard.
From the bonappetit article:
"We're aware that some readers did not like our attempt to be tongue-in-cheek here. We apologize. We in no way meant to imply that women aren't just as masterful at the grill. In fact, we'd like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to some of the stories we've run about women who grill:..."
Pussy whipped fools.
That stuff is really bad for you.
Wait, I should be impressed that a woman can cook on a grill? Isn't it kind of sexist to congratulate a woman on doing something relatively mundane, as if it is an amazing feat?
As someone who could really care less what women do, so long as they are capable of actually doing it, I feel the whole having to congratulate them every little step of the way is just holding them back.
I don't think she's asking you to congratulate her. But let me congratulate you on missing the point of the article.
Last summer I discovered natural hardwood lump charcoal. I will never go back to briquettes.
Lump sat alone in a boggy marsh
Totally motionless except for her heart
Mud flowed up into lump's pyjammas
She totally confused all the passing piranhas
Sounds like you've been doing some reading to the young'uns...:)
It makes a HUGE difference, no? I got stuck and had to use briquettes once last year and it just tasted nasty to me.
So you spent the Bucks on a gas grill, had extra parts,etc.....so where are you dropping the Hardwood Chunks? Seems to me, a charcoal grill ( like a Weber grill ) would be better for Hardwood Lumps. So how are the results? You can also get Lump charcoal in different types of wood, Apple, Cherry,Peach, Mesquite etc... depending on what you are cooking. Also, Use Mo' Butter. :((
Don't forget Carolyn Wells....founder of KCBS...Kansas City Barbecue Society....check out her book!
Enjoyed your article, it's a good story. Having read the article you referenced, I am laughing at the image in my head of of you yesterday so riled up over this injustice; the fire in your eyes, tattoos flexed and fingers flying, flaming the author and roasting the magazine that published that manly grilling article – Published on Father's Day no less. Poor Dad. And on top of that, you with cartoon smoke hovering over your head, writing this article and referencing practically all the female grill masters in the phone book.
It was just one grilling article written to make dad feel good on his one day of the year. Is nothing sacred?
Well okay, there was the one slightly sexist sentence referencing careers that might even get the 20 Fortune 500 female CEOs a little hot under the collar. http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-ceos-fortune-1000
But it is true only 4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by a female CEO.
Oh, it was infinitely more civil than that if you read the exchange on The Brasier (http://www.thebraiser.com/bon-appetit-apologizes-for-dude-food/). I didn't get into it much here but what bugged me - and a lot of the people who read the article - was 1. just that no women were asked (they'd said it was a "coincidence") and 2. a joke about the lack of Fortune 500 CEOs. Like I said, it's been changed now, but it really felt like more of a burn than a tickle, and not just to me.
I admire your passion and energy. I noticed this same article was mentioned in the huffington post for the very reasons that upset you and many other ladies that read it. I use the word lady respect... Recently a 30 something female was quite insulted when I thought I was being polite and called her a lady and I still don't understand why.
B B Q !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111
This is great, Kat! I loved your bbq discovery story. But you can't leave out Mielissa Cookston of Memphis BBQ Co. in your list of female pitnmasters. http://memphisbbqco.com/awards/ She has some bona fide bona fides.
I will surely add!
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