Gentlemen, start your barbecues

It's the time of year for barbecuing, but one sex seems to dominate the grill.

Did you know it was B.C. Beef Day on July 24? No, neither did I. While I’d like to think I fired up the barbecue and had some beef for dinner that night, I know that didn’t happen. It’s not because I don’t eat beef, nor can it be blamed on a faulty memory. No, the reason I know I didn’t barbecue beef – or anything else – on July 24 is because barbecuing, for the most part, is a man’s world.

There will be women reading this muttering, “Well, I barbecue!” To you I pass on my heartiest congratulations, for you are brave women. Do you doubt me? One of the most terrifying sights I ever saw was a lone woman barbecuing hamburgers and hot dogs at a company picnic. A cluster of four or five men stood around her, watching in silence as she flipped patties, their fingers twitching uncontrollably. Every now and then one of them would look as if he was about to speak, then think better of it and relapse into unhappy silence.

All of them had a vaguely hunted look about them, a look that conveyed the sense that something had gone fundamentally wrong with the universe but they didn’t know what to do about it. I had the sense that if the woman barbecuing had made the slightest slip with a hot dog, or grilled one of the burgers just a bit too much, they would have pounced like starving wolves. As it was, they had to stand helplessly by, biting back any critiques they might have wanted to make. After all, it’s unwise to mess with someone who has sharp implements and open flame at her disposal.

I suspect the open flame aspect of barbecuing is what appeals to men; a throwback to a time when life was more raw, less refined. Women have long since learned the value of being able to regulate cooking temperatures somewhat more precisely than either “just this side of raw” or “lump of charcoal”, so most of us are content to let men take over the grill. We’ve also learned that while many men don’t want to stand over a stove in an air-conditioned house, they’re perfectly happy to stand over a barbecue in the blazing sun and heat of the great outdoors, which is fine by us.

Not that women are taking it easy while the menfolk tend to the grilling. Dollars to doughnuts they’re indoors, making all those wonderful accompaniments to go with whatever’s on the barbecue. Potato salad, green salad, cole slaw, twice-baked spuds, veggies and dip, cheese and cracker platters, fruit plates: you name it, someone with two X chromosomes has probably put it together. When the burgers or steaks or chicken breasts or ribs are done, they are but the final piece of the puzzle. But who gets the lion’s share of the praise: the person who spent a few minutes not burning a piece of salmon, or the one who spent hours creating a ten-layer salad that would make angels weep tears of joy?

Next time you’re at a barbecue take a look at the dynamics of the grill, and see who is where, doing what. Whether it’s a man or a woman standing over the flames, feel free to praise them for their barbecuing skills. However, don’t forget to also compliment whoever is responsible for the side dishes. After all, that bruschetta and the artichoke dip didn’t make themselves.

Barbara Roden