Cooking over an open flame has traditionally been seen as a male pursuit. But more women than ever are challenging the notion that manning the backyard barbecue is best left to men at all.

That's according to the 25th annual Weber GrillWatch, which surveyed 1,000 grill owners. The study found that 25 percent of women are flipping the script and taking control of the tongs. That's up from 20 percent in 2013, and 15 percent in 2009.

But that's not to say confidence in grill prowess is growing as quickly; one-third of male grill owners think they're better at grilling than most, while 17 percent of women say the same.

A large part of that is cultural, says Pat Mares. “But some of us ignore that," she adds.

Mares, a member of the Austin, Texas, barbecue elite, helped open Ruby's BBQ in the shadow of a blues club called Antone's in 1988. “We were thinking blues and barbecue would be a good fit," she recalls.

Mares acknowledges that charcoal and grill ads mainly feature men at the center of the action. But what you see is not necessarily what you get.

Mares presided over the Ruby's brick open-pit smokers for years and grills plenty at home, a task for which she seems predestined.

Growing up on a Nebraska farm, Mares was milking cows by the time she was 7 years old, and driving a tractor by 11. Raising animals means learning how to handle large pieces of meat, bolstering her confidence at the pit. In 2005, Mares became one of the founders of the now-defunct Central Texas Barbecue Association.

For women looking to get into open-flame cooking, Mares recommends reading up on the basics of high and direct-heat grilling. Then graduate to low and slow with Austin legend Aaron Franklin's new book, Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto.

Practice, she says, makes perfect. “There's no point in being intimidated," she insists. "Grab a girlfriend and decide you're going to have a girls' night, and head to the backyard."

Lee Ann Whippen
Lee Ann Whippen

Overcome the Intimidation Factor

Lee Ann Whippen also seems born into her role of barbecue royalty. Her father, Jim Tabb, grew up on a hog farm outside of Kansas City. Once Whippen and her father were certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, they dove into the world of competition 'cue by entering the Georgia State Championship.

They promptly won, banishing any whispers of winners' luck by subsequently crushing the pork division at the Annual American Royal World Series of Barbecue Invitational. “And ever since then, I've been kind of hooked on the whole thing," Whippen said.

A certified barbecue champ, Whippen has owned four restaurants (she's currently chef/partner at Chicago q). But getting into the male-dominated world was no cakewalk.

“I was super-intimidated, but you have to stick with it and get a few wins under your belt," she says. “Once you establish credibility, it's easier for you to overcome the intimidation."

How do you establish credibility, even if it's only in the backyard? Produce a delicious product, which means not skimping on meat quality. Many professional 'cue competitors buy meat at club stores, Whippen reveals. “They tend to be less expensive, but the quality's still there."

As a competitive barbecue champ, Whippen knows timing is key. If a slab of meat takes 12 hours to smoke, and is due at the judges' table by noon, overnight cooking is in order.

The rules are similar at home, she says. Know how long your food will take to cook, and count backwards from there. “And you want to get your grill ready and everything prepared at least an hour before that food goes on (the grill)," Whippen explains.

Most importantly, Whippen says, tell the boys to leave their machismo at home.

“Girls rule in barbecue," she said. "Just don't let the guys intimidate you. Do what you want to do and you'll be great."

Robyn Lindars
Robyn Lindars in front of a spread of grilled salad and other open-flame cooked delicacies.

Spruce Up Your Grill

GrillGirl blogger Robyn Lindars figures grill intimidation often stems from faulty equipment. Few cooking appliances are exposed to the elements like a grill, and moisture and changing temperatures can lead to corrosion and dysfunction. On propane grills, the gas starter seems to be the first to go.

“That means that to light it takes an act of god," she says. “You have to turn the gas on and do a lot of fiddling, which could result in kind of a gas ball effect."

Lindars' grill clinics confirm that women balk when it comes to getting that rusting behemoth to belch fire. About 75 percent of her students say they just don't bother, and make the guy take over — no one loves singed eyebrows. “But once they've gotten over the lighting of the grill, they often embrace it."

She overcame her own fear by replacing her boyfriend's broken-down model with a spanking-new, top-of-the-line machine. “Out of practicality, I said, 'I'm going to get my money's worth,' and I kind of took it over," Lindars says, laughing.

What she learned surprised her. “I thought, why are there not more chicks grilling?" she recalls. “This is super easy, it's a great way to eat healthy and spend time outside."

According to Lindars, once women embrace the grill, they often show more creativity than men. Not a huge surprise, given that women tend to be big innovators in the kitchen.

“Guys might stick to meat and burgers, but women are often taking it to the next level," she says.

Want to take your grilling game to the next level? Try this grill-top skillet cobbler.

Red White and Blue Cobbler

Red, White and Blue Cobbler

This cobbler combines strawberries, blueberries and coconut for the perfect outdoor dessert to serve for Memorial Day. Recipe courtesy of Robin Lindars.

Cast iron Skillet

1.5 cups blueberries

1.5 cups strawberries (chopped with stems removed)

½ cup sugar

½ cup flaked sweetened coconut (¼ for the berry mixture, ¼ cup for the batter mixture)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 lemon- used for the juice, plus zest

2 tablespoons butter- 1 for the pan, one for on top of the batter

Jiffy golden cake mix

1 egg

½ cup water

Combine the blueberries, strawberries, coconut, lemon juice, zest, sugar and vanilla and let the berries macerate for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the batter with the egg and water. Add the coconut to the batter and mix until uniform in consistency. Next, make sure your grill or oven is preheated to 350 degrees. If cooking on a grill create an indirect zone by pushing the coals to one side for baking the cobbler (direct: cooking on top of the coals, indirect: cooking on the other side where there are no coals).

Coat the cast iron skillet with butter (approximately 1 tablespoon worth) so the cobbler does not stick. You can also use coconut oil if you have it. Add the berry mixture. Next, add the batter. Stir the berry and batter mixture with a spoon a few times so some of the berries can make it to the top.

Bake on the grill or in the oven for 25 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling up and the cake has turned a golden color.

Let cool for 5 minutes, then serve warm with ice cream.