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The great barbecue debate

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

"I love how the men stand around cooking the barbie while the women have done all the work beforehand doing the marinade and making the salads and then everybody says, 'what a great barbie' to the guy cooking. A barbecue is just the ultimate blokes' pastime, isn't it?"

Curtis Stone

I have been a feeble woman again!

The photo above is of my lovely husband and two of our male friends tending a barbecue at a most beautiful house in a stunning location down the coast from the Cinque Terre in Italy (see below) back in 2012 I think. But more about that later.

Some introductory remarks. On Sunday, as I have mentioned before, the extended family is gathering at our place for the Easter egg hunt and lunch afterwards. I have been planning with my daughter-in-law a little and a menu was forming in my head. I vowed not to mention it to David who will inevitably try to make me change it all. If I'm kind I would say he is interested and involved and might see some errors of judgement I hadn't noticed, but if I'm less kind I would say that he would try to dictate what we have according to his likes and dislikes. I think part of the problem is that he would view catering for a party as a real chore and very stressful, whereas I see it as fun, but he just cannot comprehend that, and so I'm sure, thinks he is lessening my burden. But really he is making me more anxious about how my beautifully prepared meat will turn out.

Anyway because I was sort of asked I made the mistake of saying that I would be doing some kind of chicken tray bake with salads and pita. It's alright to be vague about salads. Now it's a beautiful day today. It won't be quite as beautiful on Sunday, but still good enough to eat outside I think. Which is probably just as well because we can seat more people that way. Anyway this led to the inevitable - "why don't we do a barbecue"? A suggestion that we Weber a ham - not what I was thinking of, followed up by "let's do sausages". Well that's sort of what he said in a somewhat more indirect way. Anyway dear friends I succumbed - or rather I offered a compromise. I would do my chicken and he could barbecue an as yet unnamed something on the barbecue. And no it wouldn't be sausages.

I did pause in my head and wonder whether I should perhaps do a Weber roast of some kind - some pork or lamb - which could be marinaded in some interesting way. That would be easy - and tasty enough. But he did seem rather set on our 'proper' barbecue - with wood and things, so I put that thought aside. Indeed he is so enthused that he is outside almost rebuilding our barbecue. No I exaggerate slightly, but he is definitely giving it a good clean out and also putting in a new, heavier base that has been standing against a tree in the backyard for decades.

I'm not a huge fan of barbecues because often, as Curtis Stone says, you spend time preparing your meat with cutting up, bashing and marinading only to see it burnt to a crisp over an unregulated flame with all the beautiful marinade juices disappearing into the flames - and the taste disappearing into the charcoal crusted meat. He is getting better at this, but it is still a danger. And sausages. Really? Can't we do better than sausages even if you buy the best you can? They too end up burnt to a crisp. So no I am putting my foot down on sausages. Besides my grandsons may well be bringing some sausage rolls as their contribution to the feast. For feast it will be.

But what is it about men and barbecues? Why can't we break their grip? I'm sure we would do a much better job. As one writer pointed out, men on the whole do not do a lot of cooking - yes I know that's changing - and so they don't really understand the dangers of the barbecue, even though it's pretty simple:

"how, then, to cook it? Well, simply prevent it from burning by moving it around. If it's burning, take it off. That's it."

That quote is from Mike Power of The Guardian who wrote a very funny article about sexism around the barbecue.

"All over the UK, probably the world, the barbecue is now one of the last places where even normal blokes become sexist. What we have here is some kind of psychic counterpart to the Paleo diet, a biologically deterministic blizzard of bullshit that sees women as salad-spinners and men as the keepers of the grill, the tenders of the flame, lords and masters of the meat. It's a sausage-fest out there, and it's getting ugly."

And just to prove it there is my relatively non-sexist man with yet another non-sexist man and another barbecue in another beautiful spot in Italy. They almost look surprised that I should be there. Maybe I was taking them the meat to be cooked on the barbecue.

It's getting ugly because of the current hoo-ha about the obvious and not so obvious abuse of women. It is to be hoped, of course, that something good will come of it but I suspect that nothing much will change. It's too ingrained.

"No, the mythology of meat is well marbled with machismo. But, as several thousand years have passed since men had to kill our protein, make a fire, cook it and eat it, why is barbecuing seen as something women don't or can't – or, more accurately, shouldn't – do? How – and why – do men continue to claim this sacred fire-space as a male-owned sanctuary where women are not permitted?"

Maybe I should send out my female guests to butt in. Having said that Mike Power then goes on to call for revolution:

"Women of the world, unite. Burn their aprons, light the flames and cook. And men, drop the Bear Grylls pretensions and make a bloody salad."

But what if we did? Do we actually really want to cook at the barbecue? I read about one woman who did take the plunge and was roundly scorned for it. Besides it keeps the men out of the way of all the other stuff that has to go on to create the perfect barbecue - the salads and salsas and sauces and pita breads that have to be provided nowadays. Not to mention all the cutlery, crockery, table laying, etc. Thank goodness for the grandchildren these days as they do most of that. We might make a better job of cooking the meat but it's not a really pleasurable way of cooking is it? All that smoke. Your clothes - and you smell of it for ages, and it gets in your eyes no matter where you position yourself. So no - it's alright by me that the men should do it, just as long as they don't get all the credit.

But back to beautiful Lerici and that barbecue. When I went looking for photographs I also found two (well actually more) very short videos that David took which beautifully illustrates

"blokey barbecue chat. If there is anything less compelling but more oppressively penetrating than the conversation of four suburban men discussing how to light and then operate a barbecue, I have yet to hear it."

I do hope he, and our male friends will not mind. I am only laughing gently. As I said I am happy for the men to cook something tomorrow. I just hope they don't burn it. If it looks as if the video has disappeared I assure you it hasn't. Just press the play button. Do watch - it's pretty priceless.


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