This Girl is on Fire!

Move over, dudes: More and more women are warming up to the grill.

by Sue Tomchin

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A stereotype is rapidly biting the dust – or maybe we should say going up in smoke.

The image of a brawny shorts-clad guy standing with tongs in hand, flipping burgers and dogs, the smoke from smoldering charcoal haloing his brow, is growing rarer. Not only are gas grills becoming more the norm, girls are taking their place grill-side along with the guys.  

“I think originally – and by originally I mean at least 15 years ago – grilling was done by men because it wasn’t just about cooking outdoors, it was about fire-building,” says Elizabeth Karmel, aka “Grill Girl.” A nationally recognized authority on grilling, she has done her part to bring women into the grilling world through her website Girlsatthegrill.com, founded 14 years ago.

“With the advent of good gas grills, grilling has become as easy as flipping on a switch and is no longer messy or intimidating to women,” Karmel notes. And, even better, grilling is fun. “Cooking indoors is essentially solitary, but grilling is a social activity and takes the drudgery out of food preparation. Women like joining in. You feel a sense of adventure – it’s as close to taking a vacation as you can come, without leaving home.”

Karmel recommends purchasing the best quality and largest gas grill you can afford. You may find yourself using it more than your indoor oven. “The only thing I cook in my oven are baked goods,” she says, and in summer she’ll even make crisps and cobblers on the grill and in the fall, gingerbread.

Because heat in a gas grill circulates like in a convection oven, you can make great bread on the grill, she adds. Loaves are crusty and evenly browned. “You can even make challah in your grill, but you have to put all bread on a cookie sheet.”

And thanks to grilling, brisket “isn’t just for the Jewish holidays anymore. It’s huge as an everyday food,” she says. Of course brisket on the grill is Texas-style barbecue brisket and not the traditional brisket braised with onion soup that falls apart when you spear it with your fork. Texas-style brisket is smoked on the grill until the interior reaches 180 degrees, she explains. It slices beautifully and is incredibly tender.

Karmel has also had superb results with fish. One technique that she uses is to slather a fish steak like salmon or tuna with mayonnaise. “The mayonnaise holds the juice in and gives the fish a nice crust,” she explains.

There are innumerable ways to prep and season food for the grill including marinades, brines, spice rubs, barbecue sauces and more, all of which Karmel explores in her cookbook Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned, one of several she has written on grilling. But she believes that all one really needs to turn out delicious dishes – from fish to chicken to beef to vegetables – is “the trilogy – olive oil, salt and pepper.” she says.

On the grill, says Karmel, “vegetables are transformed from something you have to eat to something you want to eat. It’s all about the caramelization. The difference between something grilled or roasted, and something steamed is a world of flavor.” The technique is simple, she explains: Wash your favorite vegetables; cut them up, though not too small; brush on some olive oil and sprinkle with salt; the heat of the grill transforms them and the little fat involved isn’t a problem. “It’s not like when you sauté and the vegetables drink up oil like a sponge. On the grill you need just enough oil to coat your food.”

Cooking on the grill is done either directly or indirectly. The key to knowing whether to use direct or indirect heat for foods on the grill is a food’s size and density. “My rule of thumb is the lighterand smaller the food, the less time it will take to cook,” Karmel says. Potatoes, even new potatoes, are dense and can take 40 minutes or more to cook using indirect heat. Asparagus takes only a few minutes and is cooked directly over the flame.

The same is true of corn on the cob, which cooks in a few minutes. “The main thing is to buy corn in the husk,” Karmel explains. “Soak it in the sink for 30 minutes. Shake off the extra water. Then grill it over direct heat, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes or so, depending on how fresh the corn is.” After grilling the corn you can cut it off the cob and turn it into a salad.  She combines grilled corn, fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil and vinegar to make a flavorful salad. “It’s colorful and delicious and defines summer for me.”

With the grill, having people over to dinner stops being something you stress over.  “I have a menu I call my ‘back pocket dinner,’” she says. “It’s the dinner I make if people are coming over and I only have one hour to get ready. I make my Beer Can Chicken, grilled asparagus, and sweet potato chips. If I have extra time I also make corn bread. Everyone loves it.”


Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the founder of girlsatthegrill.com and the chef and pitmaster at CarolinaCueToGo.com, an online Barbecue Shack. She is also the author of three award-winning books, including Taming the Flame and Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned.