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Food & Dining

Women closing grilling gender gap

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Published:   |   Updated: June 9, 2014 at 08:58 AM

The first household appliance Stacy Carlson bought 12 years ago, after she and her family moved from a condominium to their Hyde Park home, was a Weber gas grill.

“I just love grilled food,” Carlson said.

Several times a month, the single mom of three boys, ages 3, 4 and 12, fires up the grill to cook vegetables, chicken and shrimp in the backyard, especially during the summer, when her schedule is more relaxed. But it's also a quick option on busy days — and there are plenty of those for Carlson, who is vice president of the Helios Education Foundation.

When she grills fajitas, her hungry, eager boys practically eat off the grates. To save time, she'll throw on a few extra ingredients to serve as leftovers during the workweek.

“It's a healthy way of eating without using heavy sauces,” she said.

Carlson's passion for grilling makes her a rarity among her gender. Market research by The NPD Group indicates men are more than twice as likely as women to be a household's primary griller.

That ratio has remained relatively constant for decades, despite improvements in equipment, access to more ready-to-grill ingredients and a higher public profile for grilling on Food Network and the Cooking Channel. But the recently released Weber GrillWatch Survey shows more women than ever before — 25 percent — are turning to outdoor cooking.

To raise the visibility of women grillers and to promote leaner cuts of beef, the Florida Beef Council in May partnered with the Junior League of Tampa for a social media photo-sharing contest using the hashtag #GirlsGoneGrilling.

The beef council also hosted a mixer in mid-May for food bloggers prior to the BlogHer Food social media conference in Miami. The party was hosted by Dunedin-based blogger Isabel Laessig, whose FamilyFoodie.com site emphasizes Sunday suppers and gathering around the home dinner table.

Laessig said her husband, Rob, once was the family griller. But with three boys and a daughter to feed on busy weeknights, and everyone wanting to eat something different, grilling became her go-to method for filling plates without making dirty dishes in the kitchen.

Her boys — Ronnie, 18, Reis, 14, and Riley, 12 — are meat lovers. Laessig and her daughter, Alexandra, 20, enjoy fish. Grilling allows her to cook both at the same time.

“For moms, it's just so easy,” she said. “Trying to get kids out to sports, all you have to do is marinate it earlier in the day, fire up the grill and you have dinner on the table in no time.”

That sentiment echoes those in the Consumer Beef Index, which the National Cattlemen's Beef Association uses to track industry changes in consumers' perceptions of, and demand for, beef relative to other meats. The most recent results, from March 2013, show that Tampa home cooks want flavorful, easy-to-make, everyday main dishes they feel comfortable preparing.

Tampa consumers also told surveyors that “there are not enough hours in the day,” an attitude that may be motivating them to find quick and easy options, the beef index report said.

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Ease of use was what motivated Elizabeth Karmel in 2001 to start GirlsattheGrill.com, which touts itself as “The original girls site for all things grillin'!”

“I had a hunch that if I could get women to buy a gas grill so that turning on the grill or lighting the fire was as easy as flipping a switch in the house, I could get them to embrace grilling,” Karmel said.

The Texas-based author went on to write such books as “Taming the Flame” and “Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned,” and to open four barbecue restaurants in New York City and one in Washington. An expanded version of her 2008 book with Bob Blumer, “Pizza on the Grill” (Taunton, $17.95), was republished this year to include gluten-free recipes.

Karmel said her love for outdoor cooking came purely out of a hankering for pulled pork.

While living in New Orleans, she cooked a Boston butt pork shoulder on her gas grill with some wood chips. She let the meat cook slowly until the fat rendered and the exterior turned a dark mahogany. While it was cooking, she mixed together a vinegar sauce from memories of her North Carolina childhood.

“In my mind's eye, I am lifting that lid and seeing that beautiful meat,” she said. “If you need any positive reinforcement, go cook in the backyard. Everyone thinks you're a hero.”

In 2001, Karmel was working on marketing initiatives for the Weber grill company. She decided to start her Girls at the Grill site because women primarily were responsible for preparing everyday meals. To attract readers, she “wrote in a girly fashion” to appeal to women who were intimidated by outdoor cooking.

“It was time for them to join in on the fun,” she said.

What surprised her was that 40 percent of her site's visitors were men who realized that outdoor cooking requires recipes.

“I found that interesting, since women supposedly don't like to grill and men supposedly don't like to ask for directions,” she said. “Neither one of those things is true. Men didn't care what the site was, as long as there was someone with some knowledge.”

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For Fort Lauderdale food blogger Robyn Medlin Lindars of GrillGrrrl.com, lighting the grill was the first challenge. With her husband out of town about five years ago, she tried to ignite his old, decaying gas grill and nearly singed her eyebrows. She bought him a new one.

At a time when food blogging fixated on an explosion in cutesy cupcakes, Lindars started writing about grilling in 2009.

“It was the result of a couple of glasses of chardonnay and playing on the Internet,” she said. “I thought, 'Why aren't more girls doing this?'”

Men flocked to Lindars' site — just as they had with Karmel's — in search of recipes. Which could explain why her most popular recipe is for “Better Than Sex Brisket.”

Still, Lindars sees a growth in the percentage of women interested in outdoor cooking. A recent clinic she held attracted 13 women who picked up tips by grilling jalapeno poppers, basil butter Texas toast, asparagus, cedar-planked salmon, chicken pizza, seared steaks and island spice pork tenderloin. For dessert, the group grilled pound cake, slices of pineapple and s'mores bars. Twenty women were waiting to take the class.

Lindars says more women she meets are becoming interested in low-temperature, slow-cooking barbecue preparation.

She competes along with her father on a barbecue team at the prestigious Memphis in May world barbecue championship. She cites Laurie Frazee, pitmaster at Barn Goddess BBQ in Dunnellon and host of a Wednesday night barbecue podcast, as one of her inspirations.

“I think all the fun is outside behind the grill,” she said. “As soon as I say I like to grill, anywhere I am, it's always a conversation starter. When women get into grilling, they see more opportunities beyond just meat.”

jhouck@tampatrib.com

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