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Desert Companion

Fanning the Flames

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Christie Vanover
Photography by Bill Hughes

Grillmeister Christie Vanover wants to fire up your passion for grilling

For Henderson’s Christie Vanover, outdoor cooking isn’t just a way of life, it’s a calling. She owns more than 20 grills and smokers — but it’s not just a collector’s obsession. She’s an award-winning barbecue competition pitmaster and the founder of GirlsCanGrill.com, a recipe-rich blog dedicated to sharing the fun, excitement, and satisfaction of grilling.

There are many ways to cook. What’s the appeal of grilling?

For me, the appeal is being outdoors. I just love any excuse to be outside. When you’re in your kitchen, you’re surrounded by four white walls and maybe a TV, but outside, you get the elements. You get a little heat, a little wind. You get the challenge of cooking. It makes it more adventurous than putting something in the oven and forgetting about it.

The flavors are far better, to me, than cooking something on a stovetop or in an oven, especially if you’re using charcoal or hardwoods. You’re going to get that kiss of smoke, especially meat. It’ll really absorb that intensity and provide a clean, fun flavor.
 

How did GirlsCanGrill.com begin?

I’ve been developing recipes and blogging for eight years now. My previous blog was about my travels around the world as a military wife, and then I realized that more and more of my cooking was done outside, and I was grilling everything. So I thought, I’m going to transition this to something that’s just a grill-related blog. When I started talking to people about it, I got that “Oh, you’re going to be a grill expert, you’re going to teach me how to grill?” — because I’m a girl. There was this kind of skepticism, because that wasn’t really the domain where women are. So I said, “Hell yeah, I am. Let’s do this!” It all went from there.

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What’s the website’s mission?

To try to find out why women are afraid of grilling, because the majority of them, I have found through my research, have some hesitation. And then I’m going to help them overcome those fears. Through my website, I get a lot of guys who want to learn tips as well. Even though society has kind of stereotyped grilling as a man’s domain, everybody needs a teacher, no matter what your gender is. So if anybody is willing to learn and I can share my experiences, we’re good!
 

What are some of the barriers you’ve found that keep many women from grilling?

A lot of people don’t like to get dirty; they think charcoal is a dirty thing. Or they feel that there’s a danger to it, even with a gas grill — turning on the propane and pushing the ignition. There’s a fear of it blowing up. They also don’t know that it’s acceptable for them to go out and fire up a grill, especially if they’re in a relationship with a man who — that’s kind of been his domain. Coming into his territory, they feel that hesitation that they might not be welcome there.
 

How do you encourage women who might be hesitant to embrace grilling?

I always teach women to start with something small. “Hey, why don’t I grill the vegetables tonight, or make the barbecue sauce?” Ease yourself out there. Women who do that find out that men and women enjoy grilling together. It takes overcoming those stereotypes that we’ve set for ourselves.
 

How does our climate affect grilling?

It’s really awesome. We can grill all year long. I’ve got a lot of friends in northern climates like Upstate New York and Montana, and in winter, they struggle to grill. They’re die-hards and they’ll do it, but they have to wrap their grills in blankets to keep the temperature. Here, the hardest time to grill is summer, I would say, even though that’s traditional grilling season. It’s that July-August timeframe when it’s 110 degrees and you still want to go outside and fire up the grill. That’s when it takes a little bit of passion.
 

What are some techniques for grilling in a sweltering Southern Nevada summer?

No matter the season, you always want to monitor your heat level, especially if you’re working with charcoal. You have to adjust your vents for the amount of oxygen that’s going to flow through and burn your coals. In the summer, it doesn’t take much oxygen and your grill is going to heat up a lot quicker because it’s so hot here. And then, I would say, do your prep work inside. Mise en place, even though that’s more of a formal term when it comes to cooking, I still do it with grilling. I prep all my vegetables inside. And pace yourself — drink lots of water and find a bit of shade. For those of us in Southern Nevada, we can handle the heat. We love it.
 

What are some of your favorite things to grill?

Rib-eye steaks are my favorite, because you can’t really mess up a rib eye unless you overcook it. Because it’s such a fatty piece of meat, it’s going to be delicious pretty much however you cook it. I also like slow and low — a rib eye is going to be a fast and hot cook. I’m a barbecuer … I love brisket, love ribs.

(See Christie Vanover’s recipe for grilled kalbi ribs on p. 55)