There are few times that men are as impressed with themselves as they are when they barbecue. And men are constantly impressed with themselves. They’re impressed with themselves when they watch a football game and predict a play that is obviously going to happen. When they win a bet on an event they had absolutely nothing to do with. When anything comes out of their penis.
Men who cannot make dinner in the kitchen suddenly consider themselves Top Chef contestants as soon as they cross the patio threshold. They believe that heating meat over a propane-fueled Weber has no relationship to the girlie activity of heating meat over a gas-fueled stove. Nothing excites men as much as flipping things. I know this because the only other thing men cook is pancakes. I know this from watching a lot of porn.
Men like to believe that women can’t work the grill because they’re afraid of fire, which men don’t seem to remember when they’re lavishing women with candles and a fireplace, thinking it will help them get laid. Grilling has been so hyper-masculinized that I have seen barbecue pits made out of oil drums, a howitzer, a police car and an airplane. There’s a nationwide barbecue-competition circuit with events every weekend where men get to smell like smoke and drink beer while participating in a sport. Teams have names such as Slap Yo Daddy, Bub-Ba-Q and Hot Grill on Grill Action. And as in all great sports, there is a barbecue fantasy league. It’s the only fantasy league where the real team names have puns just as stupid as the fantasy league team names.
Cooking outside became a guy thing in the 1950s, when newly suburban men were encouraged to spend less time in bars and more time with their families. So they carved out a small space in their backyard and turned it into a bar. And because there’s no TV with sports on to talk about, men have found something even more boring to talk about: how to barbecue. Men gather to critique the Grillmaster—which is what he likes to be called—for flipping too often or not often enough or keeping the fire too high or too low or in the wrong place. You can see why women stay away from the grill. And men.
Grilling and smoking are the least work-intensive forms of making dinner besides GrubHub. Grilling involves a cooking surface you don’t even have to clean. The two most popular English words that come from the Carib Indians are barbecue and hammock, though I would not be surprised if they also came up with GrubHub.
The reason you rarely see women working a grill isn’t because they aren’t capable. It’s because they’re busy doing all the actual cooking while men stand at the grill and act as though they’re making dinner. There’s always some woman chopping vegetables, preparing side dishes and baking dessert while the dude takes all the credit for flipping a piece of meat once and touching it with his thumb 57 times—each time explaining that thing about how you can move your fingers in different ways to make your palm feel like medium rare or medium well. In a restaurant, no one would ever call the person who does that job a “chef.” He would be a lowly line cook. And he would be ordered around by the saucier.
No one reviewing a three-star Michelin restaurant says the sausages and onions were grilled with the deft hand of a sweaty fat guy nodding his head to Van Halen. Yes, conceptually, cooking outside is rugged and challenging. Lewis and Clark ate something called ash cakes, which were balls of dough thrown on the bottom of the fire and were not really so much cakes but very much ash. Cooking on a grill is cooking outside only in the way that sleeping in a Fleetwood Providence RV is camping. And as with all male hobbies besides masturbating, a lot of unnecessary technology gets added. Brookstone offers an instant marinater that claims to deliver “all the benefits of marinating without the time-consuming hassle” of dropping meat into liquid and walking away for four hours. There’s a $100 “Bluetooth smart grilling thermometer,” a motorized grill brush and a Shop-Vac ash vacuum. If you have any of this stuff, you aren’t mastering fire, you’re mastering the same integrated circuits you master in your cubicle. Lynx makes a $9,000 Smart Grill that lets you activate it by saying “Cook steak” and then tells you when to flip it by talking to you. This is the kind of stuff men will show off despite the fact that it is so indulgent and lazy it should come with all the shame of getting a happy ending from a robot.
Grilling is peacocking at its worst, with men hogging the one time the cook is put on display at a party instead of shoved in the background like a servant. We need to bring gender equity to the backyard party. And if we absolutely have to be sexist about barbecues, we could at least go to pool parties where women in bikinis sweat over a grill while we check on our burgers way too often.