When it comes to male-dominated industries, the smoke, sweat, and heavy lifting of the barbecue world place it firmly within that pantheon. Even so, a handful of women have managed to gain a strong foothold as respected pitmasters, using their passion and talent to drive their success.
One such female culinary superstar is Jess Pryles, an Australia-born and Austin-based open-fire BBQ chef whose cookbook, Hardcore Carnivore, is currently available for sale. Fairygodboss chatted with Pryles about breaking into a field historically geared toward men, and she shared her three biggest pieces of advice for any woman seeking to make her mark in a career-related “boys’ club”.
1. Follow your passion and don’t apologize for it.
While certain industries (like barbecue) typically attract a majority of employees of a particular gender, that’s of course no reason for other-gendered folks to stay away. Pryles told Fairygodboss that, in spite of barbecue’s heavy skew toward a male workforce, she’s never felt discouraged from making her mark in the field. “I don’t think that [BBQ is] discouraging [to women]. That’s really important, and that’s what I’ve found. I mean, there’s a magazine called Texas Monthly that publishes their “Top 50” [barbecue joints] every four years, and the number one place is manned by an 83 year old woman. There are women in barbecue, it’s just that the percentages are dire,” Pryles explained.
Pryles fully committed herself to this path because of her genuine love of food and grilling, and although she’d like to see more women in barbecue, she’s never allowed the lack of female compatriots to slow her down. “I don’t have any culinary training at all; I just really like to eat food, which I think a lot of people can relate to. I was kind of fascinated by it all. I traveled back to Australia [from Austin] and tried to figure out why the brisket that I was buying at the butcher was not the same as the brisket I was getting at the barbecue pit, and it led me down this journey to discover all these things that I never thought I’d have to learn about, like cattle breeds and feed and butchering. As I learned about that, the interest for me expanded,” Pryles shared. Her decision to study technique and become the best BBQ chef elevated her within the community, and her passion for the craft helped her keep focus.
2. Surround yourself with a supportive group of friends and colleagues.
When you decide to embark on a risky career move, it’s important to resist the urge to play the lone wolf. A strong group of supportive loved ones reduces the pressure of a major work pursuit and can help you stay goal-oriented, even when faced with setbacks and adversities.
Upon starting her BBQ journey, Pryles realized the importance of networking in this very social field, leading her to develop strong relationships with other top BBQ chefs who inspire her to keep learning and growing. “Part of growing yourself in this industry - or in any industry - is networking and making those connections. Billy Durney from Hometown BBQ is someone who has known me since the very beginning of my career and has tried to guide me and help me,” Pryles told Fairygodboss.
3. Above all else, always strive to be the best at what you do.
Her entry into BBQ happened pretty smoothly and organically, but Pryles definitely acknowledges the challenges of being a female presence in a historically masculine line of work. “I do think that there’s a “boys club” in cooking. You look at people like Action Bronson or Matty Matheson, and they’re very accomplished chefs, but we also love that they’re big guys that wear crazy hats and have tattoos and stuff,” Pryles explained.
If you’re a woman looking to distinguish herself in a guy-heavy industry, Pryles has one crucial tip for you: “Do what you do really, really well. Be the best at what you do. Hone your craft and get that down, and then you won’t need to answer [questions and concerns about your gender] because you’ll be backing [your presence] up with skill. Make it about you being the best person for the job, don’t make it about your gender, and no one will be able to argue with that.”