— Cheryl Litman
“… the best cooks, particularly outdoor cooks, are men …”
— The Cookout Book (The Ward Ritchie Press, 1961)
Cheryl Litman, a friend who passed away several years ago, nailed the question of barbecue versus consensual intimacy. The question of gender superiority at the barbecue grill, however, is another matter.
Barbecue product ads usually feature a man at the grill. Now and then a woman appears — as pinup-style eye candy, or as a “helper” bearing side dishes.
A domestic sexual division of labor in culinary matters has persisted for tens of thousands of years. Men cook with fire and smoke outdoors. Women cook indoors. Not so in the restaurant, food truck, catering and celebrity chef industry.
Commenting on a barbecue symposium in Oxford, Mississippi, the late R.W. Apple, Jr. remarked, “If anyone addressed the question of why pitmasters seem invariably to be male, your correspondent was out of the room at the time.”
More than a decade has passed and the question remains seldom addressed.
Women as eye candy in barbecue product ads, and “barbecue” as a code word for girlfriend or sex, as in songs like “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” and “Barbecue Bess,” are part of our culture, but less so today than several decades ago.
In today’s sport barbecue world, maleness doesn’t guarantee a win. Female teams such as the Que Queens, Powder Puff, PMS, PDT, Yazoo’s Delta Q, Flower of the Flames and Squeal of Approval are as competent and competitive as the guy teams. They are debunking the archaic notion that men are the best outdoor cooks.
Female pitmasters are an established and welcome part of today’s sport barbecue scene, and as Steven Raichlen has noted, “Women represent a very big growth segment of the barbecue market.”
Yet, there aren’t enough female pitmasters to signal a major social revolution. For every Melissa Cookston and Elizabeth Karmel there are 10 Myron Mixons and Tuffy Stones.
Perhaps the real revolution is that instead of a battle of the sexes at barbecue contests, many teams are a mix of male and female. They play well together, have fun, and turn out some fantastic barbecue. Thus, making love and making great barbecue isn’t an either-or option.
Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, his most recent release “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”