Move Over, Patriarchy — It’s My Turn to Man the Grill

published Sep 4, 2023
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collage of woman grilling with vrgatbales around here and a wine glass
Credit: Photos: Shutterstock; Design: The Kitchn

I must admit something: As someone who is decidedly “not a big resolutions person,” I do have one New Year’s resolution I repeat year after year. Before you guess, it’s not to get back into yoga, keep a mindfulness journal, or take up pottery. No, instead, my resolution the last few years has been to grill more meat and to really grill it well.

You see, the grill-master and home-cooking skills were separated by the sexes in my family. The men of my family (my maternal grandpa and dad) gripped the tongs tightly, leaving me with a shaky lineage on how to become a grill-master in my own right.

When I was growing up, my meal options were split down the middle: eating a quick family meal from a back table at one of the many restaurants my mom worked at, or eating the creamed, grilled, and buttered meals of my dad. My mom, spoiled for choice by my grandpa who grew his own tomatoes and corn (and made every meal for her and her seven siblings), continued to never cook once she married my dad. 

While that might seem like a dream amongst dreams, the kitchen became a contested space in my family, and one in which egos were tested. On nights my mom opted to form her own burger patties for crispy-edged patty melts (over my dad’s hulking Mondo Burger-esque burgers), I knew to expect raised voices, door slams, and hackles up — especially if I chose my mom’s creation over my dad’s. There truly could not be more than one cook in the kitchen.

More often than not, every night could (and often would) be a grilling night. My dad would serve up bloody steaks to be dunked into A1 steak sauce for my brother, while my mom and I would ignore the end-all, be-all meat option for the night, covering our plates with baked beans, slaw, and slippery canned green beans. 

Over the years, I’ve tried to be OK with not having this skill. But I’ve been served one too many bowls of beautiful elk Bolognese, rodeo burgers, and grilled oysters to not learn how to conjure up the magic on my own.

At first I pored over plenty of cookbooks, noticing that most grill-specific books look like they just pounded a case of Muscle Milk and went to a monster truck rally — hyper-masculine to the point of parody. And it checks out: In 2021, men were found to be three times more likely to rate grills as their most confident cooking appliance, while only 5% of women reported feeling comfortable at the grill (although, spoiler alert: 2023 is finding 45% of women feeling “very confident” behind the grill).

Either way, I’d have to go about my resolution in my own way — the irrepressibly nerdy way. Taking to my goal with the energy I typically put towards such sacred activities like back-to-school supply shopping and picking out movie snacks, I pored over grills, recipes, and how-to books, before settling on a few things that felt true-to-me: an ultra-portable Kenyon G2 grill, perfect for my nomadic self (over the hulking behemoth my dad lorded over), and humanely raised meat from places like ButcherBox and Verde Farms (two companies I feel would 100% let me meet their farmers like that one Portlandia sketch). Unlike the tense, grilled meals of my childhood, I wanted my time behind the grill to feel expansive, welcoming, and, duh, delicious.

I started small: flank steak coated in Korean-inspired marinades for tacos, and crisped-up juicy-Lucy burgers that then gave way to honey-sweet salmon fillets and butter-basted lobster tails. A few scalded knuckles here and there, but mostly not worse for wear. I’d press my fingers into the meaty flesh of my own hand to test the doneness of steaks, bemusedly watching over my bounty as proteins transformed into something close to magical. 

The grill, once the solitary, isolating spot on our porch that my dad lorded over, now became the social center it was always supposed to be. Wireless speaker on, blasting Queen, and taking dance breaks with my dog and friends around the citronella torches, were all a part of my own recipe.

And sure, there were plenty of nights where my dog got to feast upon my failures — nights I wondered if I really was “bettering” myself behind the grill. Eating more meat is a confusing resolution to explain to most people — especially in regards to bettering my own health and that of the planet — but the tinkering has been integral to how I go about fueling myself in more ways than one. 

To reenter the kitchen and learn the machismo art of grilling (and grilling well) makes me feel more than useful — more in charge of a family narrative. I’m OK with possibly being the delightful schism of my family’s cooking lineage, happy to pass the tongs onward (could I someday be the one teaching my nephews how to grill?). Glass of red wine in one hand, tongs in the other — I like how the grill looks on me.