How to Deal with Backseat Grillers

Dear Helena,
I like to grill, but there is one dude who always tries to take over when I throw a barbecue. He's just trying to help, but it's annoying. He waits until I leave the grill unattended, then pounces, moving things around and flipping the meat before it's done. I'm female so I get especially annoyed when men try to take control of my grill. Is it rude for this dude to try to "help out," and if so, how can I get him to cede my territory?
—Hands Off My Spatula

Dear Hands Off My Spatula,
Every barbecue seems to have its backseat griller. But the only time it's OK for a guest to butt in at your grill is when there's a food-safety issue—like if you've made the common mistake of marinating meat, grilling it, and then serving it on the same platter with the raw meat juices without cleaning the platter.

Otherwise, providing "help" at the grill without being asked is a major faux pas, says Jamie Purviance, a chef and author. Despite having written 10 books on grilling (most recently, Weber's Way to Grill), he would not dream of touching someone else's spatula without an invitation. "Even if the food is burning I would leave it alone." After all, one person's "burned" is another person's "blackened." (See more of Purviance's grilling tips in our video collection on the topic.)

Fire has a primal pull, since grilling is the most ancient cooking method. People can't help looking over your shoulder, eyes riveted on the hot coals. Plus, says Purviance, people often have a strong emotional attachment to their own technique. "[Often] Dad teaches the way, so it's imprinted at an early age."

In the United States, grilling is traditionally a masculine pursuit. As a woman, it's not surprising for you to encounter more backseat grillers than the average male might. (There's a reason why grill mitts and aprons are so often suggested as Father's Day gifts.) Interestingly, says Steven Raichlen, host of TV show Primal Grill, grilling is not so male-dominated in the rest of the world. "Throughout Southeast Asia, in the Balkans, even in Mexico, most of the grilling is done by women," he says, who turn to it as an easy way to run a street-food business. "Grilling is very inexpensive. All you need is some charcoal and a hubcap."

So how do you handle the next dude who tries to muscle in on your grill? Tackle him the same way you would deal with any kitchen busybody: distraction. Purviance suggests sending him off "to look for some kitchen tool that doesn't exist, like a corkscrew shaped like a matchbox, and by the time he comes back, the steaks are done." Better yet, just tell him to mix up another batch of margaritas.

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