This girl is on fire - at the grill
June 17th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
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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

Brilliant Burgers

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

Monumental Meat

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

Stellar Sides

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

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Steves

    Cool story, bro. Or Sis, whatever.

    June 19, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  2. Ricky

    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.

    June 19, 2013 at 2:29 am |
  3. Jeff

    No woman can beat me at BBQ. Not one. That's all there is to it.

    June 18, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
  4. krobs42

    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.

    June 18, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  5. Bill

    good article, got to try pork butt (shoulder), as good as brisket, but different, 12 plus hours on my Big Green Egg, yummi

    June 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  6. palintwit

    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.

    June 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  7. pdiddydawg

    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.

    June 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  8. Rag

    "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.

    June 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  9. El Flaco

    That stuff is really bad for you.

    June 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  10. Jeff

    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.

    June 18, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Anna

      I don't think she's asking you to congratulate her. But let me congratulate you on missing the point of the article.

      June 18, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  11. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Last summer I discovered natural hardwood lump charcoal. I will never go back to briquettes.

    June 18, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Sir Biddle

      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

      June 18, 2013 at 10:48 am |
      • Truth™@Biddle

        Sounds like you've been doing some reading to the young'uns...:)

        June 18, 2013 at 11:18 am |
        • Sir Biddle

          Silly Truth.....

          June 18, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      It makes a HUGE difference, no? I got stuck and had to use briquettes once last year and it just tasted nasty to me.

      June 18, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • RichardHead@Jdizz

      So you spent the Bucks on a gas grill, had extra parts, 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. :((

      June 18, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  12. thebakingyear

    Great post!!

    June 18, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  13. Annmarie

    Don't forget Carolyn Wells....founder of KCBS...Kansas City Barbecue Society....check out her book!

    June 18, 2013 at 7:58 am |
  14. Weeds

    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?

    June 18, 2013 at 2:17 am |
    • Weeds

      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.
      But it is true only 4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by a female CEO.

      June 18, 2013 at 2:35 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Oh, it was infinitely more civil than that if you read the exchange on The Brasier ( 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.

      June 18, 2013 at 9:31 am |
      • Weeds

        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.

        June 18, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  15. sharoom

    B B Q !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111

    June 17, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  16. ceeelcee

    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. She has some bona fide bona fides.

    June 17, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I will surely add!

      June 18, 2013 at 9:46 am |
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