Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinion, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.
The subject this week is women grilling. It was a topic going all the way back to Culinary no-no #6. Here it is:
My wife is a very good cook. Unafraid to tackle any recipe, her servings and preparations have never disappointed.
She is, however, reluctant to outdoor barbecue, claiming it’s intimidating. I have reassured her that if she can make banana stuffed French toast indoors, she can certainly grill a chicken breast outdoors. To her credit, she has expressed a willingness to learn.
That raises the rather loaded question of whether or not it’s a woman’s place to be alongside a Weber.
Bina Venkataraman has a column in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “Why can’t a woman ‘man’ the grill?”
“Each summer they crop up predictably: roses, azaleas, and affronts to my ability to work the grill. Backyard or front, Northeast or Midwest, since I’ve been able to wield a pair of tongs I’ve been ridiculed, deflected, and wrestled out of my preferred post overseeing the barbecue at seasonal parties and picnics.
Excuses? I’ve heard them all, from “I want to give you a break,” to “This thing is tricky to operate.” More often, a guy who sees me approaching the grill with a pile of hamburger meat or a marinated mahi-mahi will intercept me to ask, “What are you doing?” – as if brandishing a spatula and grill basket isn’t indication enough.
It’s true that women have penetrated boardrooms, fought wars, and climbed Mount Everest. Yet what Australians call the “barbie” still seems to be distinctly reserved for Ken.”
Here’s her entire column.
This culinary conundrum is sticky, one that could send men to that icebox in the sky. But here goes.
Why can’t a woman ‘man’ the grill?
(I am not a sexist pig. I am not a sexist pig. I am not a sexist pig.)
It’s not that a woman is incapable of arming herself with charcoal, tongs, flippers, and raw meat. (See the fourth sentence of this blog).
Barbecuing outdoors is a rite of passage for men. I love it, and do it all year-round.
It’s not just the grill. It’s being outside, having a beer or cocktail while cooking, the Brewer game on the radio in the background.
Personally, I could care less about chopping a salad, or arranging the dinner table. No interest in doing that whatsoever.
But give me a bacon-wrapped filet, and some potatoes wrapped in foil with onions and green peppers, and some fresh asparagus to toss on the grate, and I’m in my element.
Yes, it’s an opportunity for a guy to help out for once with meal preparations. And there is a certain “turf” issue at stake. But at the risk of sounding less than analytical, this is a “guy” thing, cool, macho. Guys would prefer that when it comes time to cook outside, that they simply be allowed to do it while the better half does all that other stuff inside.
When my wife prepared orange-glazed duck breast, kalua pork and tiramisu, trust me, on those occasions, I was nowhere near the kitchen interfering.
Why can’t women ‘man’ the grill?
They can and would be great at it and I can’t come up with any reason why they shouldn’t except this:
Can you please just let me do it?
—Culinary no-no #6, July 15, 2007
That was 11 years ago. Two years later came this commercial…
At the time, Steven Raichlen, grilling expert and author noted “manning the grill” was real and quite understandable.
“It’s true that when you grill, you bring testosterone and fire and sharp instruments together,” he said. “And then there’s the prehistoric bonding element of gathering around a fire.”
The social/cultural phenomenon actually developed in the suburbs.
Christopher Dummitt, an associate professor of Canadian History at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, submits that in the 1950’s growing neighborhoods had homes, each with a garage and a backyard. There was more leisure time to spend with families.
“Once we saw backyards,” Dummitt said, “we saw the rising trend of backyard barbecues.”
Fast forward to today.
Adina Steiman wrote in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago about what she called “back-seat-grilling.” She explained that’s “a fascinating behavior among male bystanders with no particular expertise in outdoor cookery who will nevertheless try to co-opt your coals and determine your doneness.”
The author of the new book above has witnessed “back-seat-grilling.”
“I can’t count the times we had friends over for dinner, and while I was outside supervising the grill, so were all of the men, hovering, suggesting, practically grabbing the tongs out of my hand,” Susan Hermann Loomis wrote in the introduction of her book.
Loomis lives in France and promotes women taking over the grill. The Wall Street Journal compared her style to that of the aforementioned Steven Raichlen, author of 31 books, who is bullish on grilling with recipes bursting with testosterone.
Like beer-can breakfast burgers.
Or pork loin Reuben.
Loomis, on the other hand, is far less fussy, using fewer ingredients and equipment that isn’t fancy. Her honey-grilled pork chops are marinated simply in lemon juice, honey, garlic, and paprika.
Steiman of the Wall Street Journal called Loomis’ approach “unfussy, refined, a style that reads as (dare I say it?) ‘feminine” as easily as it does Gallic.”
Steiman concluded her article by suggesting plenty of men will flock to Loomis’ technique, and many women will take on Raichlen’s, and as she put it, “luckily, there’s no one saying you have to pick just one.”
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