In the early 1990s, a Kansas City, Mo., disc jockey made the mistake of announcing on the air that women couldn’t barbecue. That was all Karen Adler had to hear. She immediately wrote a letter to the station saying that women could handle a pair of barbecue tongs as well as men. Before long, Adler, 54, and Judith Fertig, 55, experienced barbecue cooks and food writers, found themselves embroiled in the 1994 Battle of the Sexes Barbecue, a contest they believed would be a golden opportunity to prove their point.
They pulled together a women’s team that called themselves the “Que” (later changed to BBQ) Queens. For the contest, the women wore hot pink outfits and rhinestone tiaras. With costume jewelry draped around their necks and dripping from their arms, they made quite a splash at the event. But the men won.
“We were shocked,” Fertig says. But the partners admit that while the men’s team concentrated on the food, the women had other things on their minds. “We were too busy with glitter,” Adler says. In subsequent years, they buckled down to business and never lost again.
For Adler and Fertig, the barbecue show goes on. Between them, they have 11 grills and smokers. They have written cookbooks, given barbecue demonstrations and taught cooking classes attended by more than 75,000 people across the nation.
Along the way they learned more about the way men and women behave at the grill. Men, for instance, focus on what they’re cooking, while women take in the bigger picture: the piece of meat over the flame is part of a whole meal, and if you cook enough, there can be leftovers for the next day. Women are neater and more likely to try new recipe ideas. At their cooking classes, women ask how to turn a whole fish fillet (carefully, with two spatulas) and the best way to grill vegetables (over a hot fire until they have grill marks) and never fail to be impressed when Adler slams a panino (a grilled Italian sandwich) flat with a foil-covered brick.
Before they take their gig on the road, the BBQ Queens pack their gear and treat themselves to manicures. They have cut down on the necklaces, which tangle with microphones, but wear tiaras and as much jewelry as they can get away with. At the end of every performance, they give the audience a royal wave, touching their fingers to their pearls for a final flourish.
Weeknight Tips from the BBQ Queens
BBQ Queens Karen Adler and Judith Fertig know what it takes to get supper on the table seven days a week. “So many meals, so little time,” they write in Weeknight Grilling with the BBQ Queens (Harvard Common Press, 2006), but with the right planning and some culinary know-how, it can be done.
- Think about the whole meal, not just one dish, so you can organize shopping and prepping.
- Serve uncomplicated sides or foods that can go on the grill with the main course.
- Eat healthfully by aiming for at least three servings of fruits or vegetables with the meal.
- Become “tray chic;” carry ingredients to the grill on a tray. If you’re organized, you won’t waste time running back to the kitchen for items you’ve forgotten.
- Befriend olive oil. Brush food with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before putting it on the grill to reduce the chances of food sticking.
- Stoke a hot fire; foods cook faster and taste great.
- Grill for leftovers. Cook more than you need for one meal so leftovers can be used for the next day’s lunch or supper.
- Chill out at the grill; while the food is cooking, enjoy the sunset or pamper yourself with a glass of your favorite beverage.