Monk: One of the first successful barbecue competition/reality shows that I personally remember watching was “BBQ Pitmasters” which premiered way back in 2009. Before it shifted to a closed competition format starting with season 2, it’s first season followed a stable of competition teams as they travelled to barbecue competitions across the country from Nevada to Missouri to Delaware to Georgia. It introduced the wider barbecue world to personalities like Myron Mixon, Leeann Whippen, Johnny Trigg, Harry Soo, and Tuffy Stone as they struggled through the elements at barbecue competitions in these locales in hopes of getting a top 10 call in one of the four meats – chicken, ribs, pork, brisket – or for the overall winner.
“BBQ USA” premiered this past Monday, July 11 in the same 9-10pm ET timeslot as the recently finished third season of “BBQ Brawl.” It’s no secret that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the last season but based on the premiere episode, “BBQ USA” looks to be a spiritual successor to that first season of “BBQ Pitmasters” with better production and Michael Symon as narrator/host of sorts.
In episode 1, we meet 5 teams the day before the Qlathe Festival in Olathe, Kansas: Slaps BBQ, Meat Rushmore BBQ, High I Que, Hog Diesel BBQ, and Fergolicious BBQ and get a little background of the teams as we follow each one through the day of competition. That means starting the fires at 3am right in through turn-ins for chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket throughout the next 14 or so hours. We get to see the stress of the cooks and turn-ins, with some of them coming down to literally the last second. Finally, we are in the tent with the teams for the calls for each meat and the stress of getting your name called; or in many cases, not.
To me, the best part of the show is seeing the human element in the moment of a real world competition with not only the other 4 teams but the rest of the field. While I generally liked all of the competitors involved with the past few seasons of “BBQ Brawl,” it’s really interesting to see how the teams stack up not only with each other but with the wider competition (in this case, Qlathe had 72 total teams). So while we did have an overall winner in a team we happened to be following in Slap’s BBQ (as well as Fergolicious BBQ finishing second), we also get teams like Hog Diesel BBQ who didn’t get a call and has to go back to the drawing board for the next competition.
Based on the previews and show description, we will be at another competition next week and may or may not see some of the same faces from this episode. The trailer shows more well-known teams like The Shed, Christina Fitzgerald, and Ubon’s BBQ, so I’ll be curious to see how much it really changes each episode in terms of who they follow. Regardless, I’ll be watching.
What were your thoughts on the premiere? Will you be watching this season? Do you prefer this format versus “BBQ Brawl?”
“BBQ USA” airs Monday nights at 9pm ET on Food Network