OK, guys, you may think you know how to grill, and in the world of backyard barbecuing, you may have bragging rights.
But Kim Markley? For the second year in a row, she actually has LongHorn Steakhouse’s Steak Master regional award to prove her skills.
That’s right, a woman.
“It’s mainly a male-dominated field,” Markley says of the chain’s annual competition. “There are a few of us women who are doing very well.”
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Out of 6,000 employees, the regional award puts Markley in the top 60.
She’s been with LongHorn for nine years and says the national competition among LongHorn kitchen staff started last year “to kind of build morale and get that competitive spirit going.”
Most restaurant competitions honor front-of-the-house workers instead of kitchen workers, “even though we’re the heart of the restaurant.”
The competition tests menu knowledge, skills, techniques and grilling ability.
Markley’s path to mastering grilling and other kitchen skills was not what she intended.
More than three decades ago, she was working for a company that sent her to Purdue University to learn mechanical engineering. When the company lost some automotive work, she lost the schooling.
“I went back to what I knew, which was cooking,” Markley says.
Instead of getting a culinary degree, she says, “I’ve just learned it coming up in the restaurant business.”
Markley says she thinks she’s close to the level she would have been had she gotten a culinary degree.
“Would I have chosen this? No,” she says. “But I do very well at it.”
And so can you in your own home, she says.
Here are Markley’s top tips for grilling success this July Fourth – or any time of the year.
▪ “Don’t be afraid to have the temperature high,” she says. “You want a high temperature so you can get a good sear on the steak. … It seals in the flavors and the juices.”
▪ “Don’t be afraid to season. Be creative. Adventurous.”
For instance, these days a popular item at LongHorn is a steak seasoned with smoked hickory and sweet maple flavors, which might not seem like they go together but complement each other nicely, Markley says.
At home, she says, she likes to cook her vegetables and steaks together so they flavor each other.
“I especially like to do spicy and sweet at the same time on a steak,” she says.
It’s not only steak where she tries new things.
“I’ll cook a ham in Dr. Pepper. It’s the greatest thing,” Markley says. “You’ve got to be creative.”
▪ Poke your steak, Markley says. The more firm it is on the sides, the more it’s getting done. She says she likes to flip her steak every three or four minutes depending on how done she wants it.
While Markley “absolutely” hopes to win the LongHorn competition one day, she says she was pleased enough to see a woman make the final seven at this year’s finals on June 29.
“That was almost as good as me doing it,” Markley says.
That’s because of the prevalence of men, she says.
It’s something she deals with regularly, even with customers, who she says are often surprised to find it’s a woman cooking their steaks.
“We have so many guests that come in and say, ‘Tell the cook, tell him that he did a great job on my steak.’
“I’ll tell her.”