Fired Up

A woman's place is at the grill

Low and slow or hot and fast? Get your mind out of the gutter because that, my friend, is not a sexual reference but rather the difference between barbecuing and grilling. Didn't know there was a difference? Neither did we, until we spoke with Judith Fertig of Kansas City's BBQ Queens. She and partner Karen Adler are taking the art of barbecue back from the boys, and they're doing it in style--brandishing tiaras and tongs, meat and martinis.

At the risk of offending, according to Fertig there are only three places in the United States where the real barbecue deal can be found: Texas, Memphis and Kansas City. Try ordering it anywhere else, and you're likely to get anything from chicken legs baked in a conventional oven and slathered with barbecue sauce to the downright blasphemous boiling of ribs in states such as Ohio. Get a rope!

But the BBQ Queens are out to change all of that. They're traipsing across America with one mission in mind: to convert people to the right way of thinking about barbecue--starting with the gender issue. "Women can't barbecue" was the comment from a Kansas City DJ who got Adler and Fertig fired up. Like cooking breakfast on the weekend, American culture expects that Daddy does the barbecue. Let's face it, ladies, hot coals and soot are not on our list of favorite things. But with the creation of more sophisticated equipment, Fertig says women are reclaiming the pit, but this time with a twist.

Grill girls: BBQ Queens Karen Adler and Judith Fertig
Grill girls: BBQ Queens Karen Adler and Judith Fertig

"Women bring something different to the barbecue table," Fertig says. "Women think about the whole meal, so they are going to put a lot more on the grill than just meat." Grilled romaine lettuce, grilled asparagus, grilled corn on the cob--just about anything can be tossed on the barbie. But remember: Grilled is hot and fast; barbecue is low and slow. And in Texas, we like to use a fragrant wood such as mesquite.

The women were inspired by legendary chef Alice Waters, the Gloria Steinem of barbecue. In the '70s, Waters made a deal of grilling food for herself, and the Queens followed in her footsteps, writing 20 cookbooks that have sold almost 500,000 copies, including Easy Grilling and Simple Smoking with the BBQ Queens and Fish & Shellfish Grilled & Smoked. As culinary instructors, they've taught more than 50,000 students. They've even competed in the infamous Kansas City Battle of the Sexes Barbecue Contest--and won. Their team costume includes rhinestone tiaras and strands of pearls.

So, watch out, fellas. There may be a barbecue queen lurking inside the missus--just waiting to crash your next tailgate party.

 
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