Guest Column: Danielle Bennett on the Changing Face of Barbecue

Cookbook author and TV star Danielle Bennett says it’s time for female pitmasters to be taken seriously

Guest Column Danielle Bennett

I am a professional barbecuer. A pitmaster. Whatever you want to call it. Barbecue is my life. I have had this OCB (obsessive compulsive barbecue disorder) since 2006, after judging a barbecue contest and biting into some succulent ribs and brisket. It hasn’t been easy to get to where I am now, because I just happen to be female.

And where am I now? I’m a successful host of a television show on Travel Channel and Food Network. I’ve had appearances on multiple TV programs as a judge and competitor, including the Today Show, BBQ Pitmasters, American Grilled, Kids BBQ Championship and the Marilyn Denis Show. I’m the only person to ever have an American O-1 visa as a barbecue expert, and I’ve won multiple grand championships and hundreds of awards. I’ve travelled to every major barbecue mecca in North America. I’m a motivational speaker and bestselling author of a cookbook that has been nominated for a Gourmand World Cookbook Award.

But I’m female. Let me explain what that means in the world of barbecue. It means that when I walk into a barbecue store and ask questions, employees will often refer to my husband instead of me.

It means that my recipes and words can be unduly scrutinized. It means regularly getting hate mail telling me where to go and asking me who the hell do I think I am, and what right do I have to talk about barbecue. That’s the sanitized version of the mail I get.

The double standard is alive and well in BBQ

It means arguing with potential book publishers because you don’t want a pink cookbook cover with a tiara – you want to be taken seriously. A discussion that would never happen with a man.

It means being publicly ridiculed in barbecue forums for defeating a male contestant and because I stood up for myself on a TV show. The double standard is alive and well in the barbecue industry.

I have also not done myself any favours because I refuse to kiss anybody’s ass. I don’t play the schmooze game well. I’ve passed on opportunities that would have been financially worthwhile, but I can’t take a cheque for something I don’t believe in. I’d rather work with people who have integrity.

A well-meaning friend once told me maybe I could be just a little bit softer. I’d prefer to just be me. I’ve worked extraordinarily hard to get to where I am – no one handed it to me. You can’t be lazy.

I am really grateful for the long-term friends that I have made in this industry, males and females. When I first started out, I was lucky to meet some of the most legendary barbecue families in America.

I was honest with them and told them how much I just wanted to learn. I received guidance from them and an ongoing education in barbecue. For me, that education is never-ending. I am always learning, always experimenting and always trying out new things.

I’m often asked what’s it like to be a female barbecuer. I really would rather they ask me for some kickass recipes.

Over the last few years, things are finally starting to change. American barbecue is a booming business that still doesn’t see very many females, but there’s been a definite shift in viewing them as a marketable commodity in the barbecue world.

I really want the women in barbecue to be taken seriously. It’s time. Every year I’m asked what’s it like to be a female barbecuer in a man’s world. I really would rather they ask me for some kickass recipes.

Now I work with companies that see the value in having diversity, new viewpoints and new vantage points. It’s great to see some of those long-standing walls come down. Like some of the amazing few women in barbecue before me, I’m helping pave the way for future generations. I like it. I like it a lot.

- Words by Danielle Bennett