Men staring at chops.

Everybody rots around the fire, everyone gnaws at a piece of meat – barbecuing is an archaic affair. The roles are clearly distributed: The man stands at the fire, the woman keeps away. This was also the case in the Stone Age. But why haven’t we changed our behavior patterns since then? Because we are so far developed.

It is early in the morning, the man puts on his bearskin and stretches his head out of the cave. Courageously he takes off into the big, dangerous world to fulfill his most important duty: to feed the family. He risks his life, fights with mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, kills a wild animal with a targeted thrust from his spearhead. With the prey on his shoulders, the brave hero comes home, where his loved ones guarded the fire all day long and waited for him. He proudly hangs the dead animal over the flames and roasts it. His wife gratefully pats his stomach, he has fulfilled his duty, he is the greatest … This is where the daydream ends, gentlemen, and please come back to reality.

Reality is different – and yet surprisingly similar. No matter whether you are currently walking along the Isar, in the allotment garden settlement or in the park: everywhere there is smoke and sizzle. Crowds sit on blankets or plastic chairs, a barbecue is set up in front of them, on which sausages, neck chops and corn on the cob fry. No leisure activity enjoys a broader consensus in summer than barbecuing. Everyone enjoys it, everyone can contribute something to the common enterprise. A grate and a piece of meat are enough to make people happy.

But we no longer live in the Stone Age. We no longer have to hang our food over the open fire to prepare it. Our kitchens are full of microwaves, steam cookers, pressure cookers, induction cookers with electromagnetic glass hobs and other high-tech appliances. So why do we still decide to leave all this to one side and prepare our food on the open fire? Why don’t we sit down at the dining table, as we would with any other normal meal, and go down on our knees in the open air, crouch on the floor or in rickety camping chairs?

Barbecuing appeals to our basic instincts. The smoke, the heat, the smell of food awaken the Neanderthal in us. People gather around the fireplace, this is evolutionarily engraved in their behaviour. “For about 100,000 years people have been able to deal with fire. Since then, food has been prepared over heat, which has also changed human teeth and allowed language to develop,” explains Gunther Hirschfelder, cultural scientist at the University of Regensburg. “Cooking with fire therefore played an important role in the social and cultural education of people.

The enthusiasm for grilling is therefore based on the positive experiences our ancestors have already had with it. This intuition is part of our genetic heritage. What is noticeable when looking at a barbecue party today: On the one hand, men and women alike enjoy the event, everyone enjoys coming together to spend a summer evening barbecuing in the garden. On the other hand, it is almost always the men who are standing on the grill and handling fire and meat. Does the pattern repeat itself here? Do emancipated, modern women crickets simply fall back into the role of the belly fondling cave woman and men into the role of the powerful leader?

A refuge in barbecuing

80 per cent of men in Germany are reluctant to let the grill tongs be taken out of their hands, 13 per cent do not tolerate anyone besides themselves at the grill. This was the result of a survey conducted last year by the Lidl discounter among around 1600 barbecue grillers. Two thirds of the asked women said even that they would have no interest at all in the job of the grill master and would worry rather about the preparation of the supplements. What is to blame for this well-worn distribution of roles?

Men cling to their barbecue tongs because women in so many other walks of life have already taken the scepter. Cultural scientist Hirschfelder argues: “For men, barbecuing is a kind of postmodern reflex. In the course of women’s emancipation, he has lost evolutionary rights. Loss of power always also means trauma. The man has a refuge in barbecuing.” So the grill is the last island of masculinity: where he swings the sceptre and draws his sword to defend the clan. At the grill, the man can be a fireman, breadwinner and entertainer all in one. There he can be as he would like to be deep inside.

Besides, guys can eat as much as they want while barbecuing, without being looked at stupidly or gently reminded of his growing belly of prosperity with a warning look. Two steaks, three steaks and a few sausages. Etiquette and table manners are thrown completely over the top and nobody is bothered. Hirschfelder also says: “We live in a society in which gender roles continue to soften. Men are under enormous observation pressure not to behave too machistic or proletarian.”

But not when barbecuing. There the sausage is packed with the hands and bitten in heartily, so that the fat splashes only in such a way and the meat juice drips from the chin. There are no limits to the pleasure of the meat here. Outside of the grill party such an eating behaviour would not be tolerated. If the man would scoop up his plate at lunch in the cafeteria in a similar way and eat his way out, his colleagues would directly accuse him of greediness, excess and bad manners.

The turning and turning of the grill, the taking of meat into hands, is and remains a male domain. That men feel good about it and enjoy their role as grill masters is understandable. And it doesn’t mean that the women sitting next to them have missed the chance to emancipate themselves – on the contrary. They stood at the stove long enough. The men, on the other hand, stand at the grill with enthusiasm, precisely because it is the last area they have for themselves and which they defend.

So when the man is standing on the grill looking after the smoke clouds, it can happen that his basic instincts are awakened and he falls into a daydream of the hunter and protector. But before the chops burn, you should wake him up again.