Barbecue Bros AV Club: “BBQ Brawl“ S3 E2 – “BBQ Games”

Monk: After an extremely successful stint recapping season 2 (ha), I’m back to recap the third season of BBQ Brawl, which airs on Monday nights at 9pm ET on Food Network. Let’s brawl!

After a week one where no one went home (but the bottom two teams switched captains0, we’re back to the usual elimination format in episode 2. After some trash talk from Bobby, whose team won week 1, they jump right into the Advantage Challenge.

Advantage Challenge

The captains will join their teams in a culinary relay challenge to perform the following four tasks: shuck and de-kernel 8 corns, cut a pork shoulder and grind sausage into five links, break down a whole chicken, and chop 3 quarts of coleslaw. The teams have 5 minutes to gameplan.

Team Anne jumps out to a big lead but eventually everyone gets to the coleslaw challenge, and Jet starts making up time with his serious chopping skills. Tony on Team Bobby has a unique “chop everything” technique and starts to make up time but ultimately Team Anne’s lead is too much to overcome and they win. A chintzy new “Pigasus” trophy is introduced and they proudly display at the front of their station. Not sure if this will come into play other than bragging rights.

Team Brawl

For the Team Brawl, the BBQ Games continue in the form of “BBQ Tag Team:” each team has to create a cohesive theme in at least 4 dishes, whatever each team wants. Two hours cooking time, 15 minutes to prep and cook as a team, but after that that initial period only one contender can cook at a time in 15 minute increments and everyone has to cook twice. Team Anne’s advantage is that they get to tag Anne in once to help outside of the beginning and ending 15 minute periods.

In order of judging:

Team Anne goes with a “BBQ Melting Pot” theme which means each person basically does what they want (similar to Team Jet’s concept from last week when he was captain of these same contestants). The cook goes fairly smoothly and Anne comes in for the last 30 minutes total as part of their advantage. Their menu:

  • Don’s Vietnamese chicken with ginger garlic rice
  • Sunny’s garlic herb tri-tip
  • Rashad’s roasted garlic and cheese mashed potatoes and sweet and sticky brussel sprouts;
  • Anne’s Mexican street corn

While the judges agree that the menu was all over the place, they seem to like just about every dish but note that the brussels could have used some char.

Team Bobby’s them is “Southwestern BBQ” and by far the most cohesive concept amongst the teams. Their cook also goes well for the most part until James knocks over a grill with his meat and vegies right as they get to the last 15 minutes but he thinks he can salvage the steak.

  • Matt’s smoked salmon and scallop ceviche with tortilla chips
  • Tina’s chile relleno casserole and charro beans
  • James and Bobby flank steak with salsa roja
  • James flatiron steak fajitas

Immediately there are issues noted by the judges. They question the use of salmon with scallops together in Matt’s ceviche. It turns out maybe James shouldn’t have served the steak fajitas after all as Brooke and Carson both taste a gritty and sandy texture in their meals. On the other hand, Tina’s chile relleno and charro beans are a hit and the flank steak and salsa roja works once the ingredients are combined.

Team Jet‘s theme is “International Soul Food BBQ” (again Jet with an international theme).

  • Tony’s cast iron chicken with Armenian spices and pomegranate drizzle
  • Winnie’s char siu pork
  • Michelle’s cajun shrimp and andouille over cheesy grits
  • Jet’s roasted cauliflower with agrodulce

Tony’s chicken isn’t getting color on the smoker so at one point he pivots to cast iron to give it a sear before putting it back on the smoker. In the end this leads to a successful dish. Winnie’s Chinese char siu pork has good flavor but is slightly overdone. Both Michelle and Jet’s dishes needed more char on the shrimp as well as more evenly on the cauliflower.

Results

Team Anne is named the first safe team, which makes sense based on the feedback from the judges. Team Jet is named second and happily makes the walk off the set.

That leads to Team Bobby predictably being named as the bottom team. Between James and Matt, they seemingly had the two weakest dishes of the Team Brawl. In the end, James takes the bullet for dropping his meat on the ground and then serving it but Matt should feel lucky with his muddled ceviche.

Will Team Anne start a winning streak? How will Bobby react to losing the first contestant of the season? Check back here next week.

Barbecue Bros AV Club: “BBQ Brawl“ S3 E1 – “‘Cue the Introductions”

Monk: After an extremely successful stint recapping season 2 (ha), I’m back to recap the third season of BBQ Brawl, which airs on Monday nights at 9pm ET on Food Network. Let’s brawl!

We’re back at Starr Hill Ranch for season 3 of Food Network’s “BBQ Brawl.” But there are some new faces around mainstay Bobby Flay. Joining him as captains this year are Chefs Anne Burrell and Jet Tila. While they may not have a ton of barbecue or live fire experience, they are capable chefs who are going to be gunning for Bobby this season. Will it pay off? We’ll see.

We join the contestants in media res of the Individual Challenge, where they are cooking a skewer for the judges to choose them, schoolyard pick-up style.

Individual Challenge

Of course, we’ve got a whole new slate of contestants this year but a few are familiar. Tina Cannon of course was the winner of Netflix’s “American Barbecue Showdown.” Michelle Wallace is the executive chef of the highly regarded Gatlin’s Barbecue in Houston. A few are recognizable from my Instagram feed: Don Nguyen is part of the up and coming Khoi Barbecue in Houston, Rashad Jones runs Big Lee’s BBQ in Ocala, FL, and Winnie Yee-Lakhani started Smoke Queen Barbecue somewhat recently.

The full cast list, in order of introduction:

  • Tony Froyan – Fire & Feast Catering, Maplewood, NJ
  • Michelle Wallace – Gatlin’s Barbecue, Houston, TX
  • Don Nguyen – Khoi Barbecue, Houston, TX
  • Sunny Moody – Moodswing BBQ, Nashville, TN
  • James Cruse – Central City BBQ, New Orleans, LA
  • Rashad Jones – Big Lee’s BBQ, Ocala, FL
  • Matt Roth – Smokin Beauty, Austin, TX
  • Winnie Yee-Lakhani – Smoke Queen BBQ, Fullerton, CA
  • Tina Cannon – Atlanta, GA

After the judges try each of the contestant’s skewers, they begin picking with Jet who won the tiebreaker over Anne. Bobby naturally goes third because he has won the previous 2 seasons.

Team JetTeam AnneTeam Bobby
DonWinnieJames
RashadMichelleTina
SunnyTonyMatt

Team Brawl

That leads right into the team brawl, but first the judges. All three return from last season: Rodney Scott, Brooke Williamson, and Carson Kressley. I thought the judging was one of he stronger elements of last season so I’m glad it remains unchanged.

The team challenge is a “BBQ Restaurant Battle:” each team will create a restaurant menu concept and have multiple entrees, multiple sides, and even a dessert. And surprise surprise, no one’s going home for losing this challenge but the two bottom teams will have to switch team captains. Plot twist!

Team Bobby – American Chop House

Team Bobby goes for a classic steakhouse concept, but “with a twist.” That twist? Not just traditional steak but also lamb and boar. James cooks a filet with roasted garlic mashed potatoes; Matt gives the wild boar chops a go with a side of creamed spinach; Tina’s lamb chops are middle eastern with grilled asparagus. Bobby takes dessert and goes with the iron skillet cobbler on smoker.

Team Jet – International Smokehouse

Aka you “can do whatever you want,” according to Bobby. Rashad goes with kalbi beef short ribs; Jet serves a flank steak salad; Don draws on his heritage with double fried Vietnamese chicken wings and Vietnamese street corn; Sunny does a simple bruschetta and her much-touted bourbon maple bacon pecan pie that she cooks on the smoker.

Team Anne – The Hen House

Team Anne focuses on poultry for their concept. Tony and Michelle team up for chicken fried steak with gravy from Michelle; Anne handles the smashed potatoes; the five spice quail is an entire team effort; Michelle smokes chicken thighs and makes homemade biscuits; Winnie goes dessert with a peach and mango pudding with meringue on top.

As a reminder: no one’s going home but bottom two teams will be switching team captains.

The judges announce that Team Bobby is the top team and will be staying in tact. That means Jet and Anne switch teams going forward. We’ll see how their approaches mesh with their new teams, but Tony may be a little relieved to go from Team Anne and Team Jet.

Will Bobby retain his crown for the three peat? Will Anne and Jet get along with their new teams? Who will win the competition and be named “Master of Cue?” Follow along with me as I recap this season of “BBQ Brawl.”

Barbecue Bros AV Club: Top Chef S19E5 “Don’t Mess with BBQ”

Monk: This season of Top Chef is taking place in Houston, so we all knew a barbecue episode would be coming. That came last Thursday, so in a one-off here’s a recap of the episode much like we did with last summer’s “BBQ Brawl.”

Immediately after last week’s judging, Padma lets the cheftestants know that they will be meeting Brooke Williamson the next morning. Their collective antennae are raised and they immediately start to dread the next challenge. Otherwise, why would Padma talk to them immediately after judging?

The next day, the cheftestants meet Brooke at J-Bar-M Barbecue, one of the newer joints in Houston thats made an impression in Houston’s very crowded and competitive barbecue scene. Brooke takes them back to the pit room where the huge Moberg smokers are housed. 

You may recall that Brooke was a judge on BBQ Brawl, so she is the natural choice to lead them through this week’s episode. The Elimination Challenge is to create a dish highlighting brisket, and Brooke calls out such barbecue fusion dishes such as brisket fried rice, brisket hand rolls, and brisket pho. The next day they will serve their dishes to this week’s guest judge, famed pitmaster Greg Gatlin, as well as 20 of Texas’ best pitmasters. Today, the chefs will have until midnight to finish their dish and are relieved that they can focus on this challenge without the stress of a quickfire.

The cheftestants start off by prepping their briskets and loading them into the smokers before heading off to Whole Foods Market to get their provisions for their dishes. Once they get back from Whole Foods, they are ambushed by Tom and Brooke with a Quickfire Challenge. Technically, Brooke never said there wasn’t a Quickfire and they are challenged to make their finest Texas Toast for immunity and $10,000. She mentions Texas Toast as a barbecue side, but that seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

A few miss the point of the challenge (Buddha and Monique go French, for instance) but Nick’s BLT Texas Toast with pancetta and cheese, Jo’s mushroom and arugula Texas Toast, and Jackson’s shrimp toast with balsamic chili jam are named as the top 3. Nick takes home top honors and gets the aforementioned immunity and $10,000.

From there, the focus shifts back to the brisket challenge. The briskets are starting to take shape and Pitmaster Willow Villareal is there to guide them along the way and give pointers. As the clock nears midnight, the cheftestants are treated to a barbecue spread from J-Bar-M before wrapping their briskets and finishing up for the night. Damarr is a little anxious not knowing how his brisket will turn out until they walk in tomorrow morning. Welcome to the life of a barbecue pitmaster, Damarr!

The next day they have 1.5 hours to finish their dish and each are mostly relieved that their briskets turned out well. A few do have concerns, however: Monique only tastes the salt and pepper from her rub and not the cardamom and other spices and Ashley’s brisket is a little under-salted, so her broth will have to be “full of flavor.”

As the pitmasters walk into the J-Bar-M dining room, the chefs began to put their final touches on their dish. Speaking of pitmasters, here are the ones I spotted in addition to Greg Gatlin: Richard Orozco of Piper’s BBQ, Ara Malekian of Harlem Road Texas BBQ, Scott Moore of Tejas, Robin Wong and Quy Hoang of Blood Bros BBQ, Don Nguyen of Khoi Barbecue, Sloan Rinaldi of Texas Q, and Russell Roegel of Roegel’s BBQ.

In the top 3 are Buddha’s barbecue beef bourguignon with “barbe-jus,” beef fat potato croquete, onion jam and beet petals, Evelyn’s “Texas-style brisket curry” with aromatic rice, pickled veggies, and burnt ends crumble, and Jackson’s brisket-stuffed carpinocc pasta with cornbread crumbles and a “buerre-becue sauce” made with “North Carolina gold barbecue sauce (huh?).” Evelyn takes home the crown and the Houston chef wins on two fronts: winning the brisket challenge in Texas as well as making a curry that Padma actually loves. Very impressive, and hard to tell which one she is more pleased with.

The bottom 3 are Monique’s basic brisket, potatoes, and homemade brioche roll, Ashley’s brisket soup with creamed corn and collards where she “tried to bring Carolina barbecue into the dish,” and Jo’s “whelming” brisket pappardelle with harissa cabbage and corn that didn’t showcase the brisket enough.

In the end, Ashley goes home for her muddled mess but in my opinion Monique is very fortunate. Ashley will have another shot in Last Chance Kitchen but for now, her time is up.

If there’s any other barbecue episodes of “Top Chef” I’ll be back for a recap but that does it for now. What do you think, do you want to see another barbecue-focused episode of “Top Chef” this season?

Five Reasons Why This Season of “BBQ Brawl” Was Must-See TV

A version of this post appears in this week’s Smoke Sheet newsletter, which you should absolutely subscribe to if you haven’t already.

Monk: During the past nine weeks, season two of Food Network’s BBQ Brawl provided the perfect summer show for fans of barbecue and grilling looking to get their fix on television. I would go so far as to say it was even “must see,” when very few network BBQ TV shows seem that way these days.

This season of BBQ Brawl featured a new co-host with chef Eddie Jackson, who joined Bobby Flay and Michael Symon as hosts and team captains. Flay, Jackson, and Symon picked among 12 contestants to be on their respective teams, and each week, one contestant was sent home. Then it was down to just three barbecuers for the exciting finale last week.

Here are five reasons why this season of BBQ Brawl was must-see TV.

Legit Barbecue Talent

While the first season had heavyweights such as eventual winner Lee Ann Whippen as well as the likes of Kevin Bludso, Carey Bringle, and Tuffy Stone competing, the second season didn’t quite have the same star power. But there’s no denying the barbecue bonafides of many of the contestants.

The first contestant to go home, Christina Fitzgerald, is involved with Sugarfire Smoke House, which started in St. Louis, Missouri, and is now up to 15 locations across the southern and midwestern US after a recent expansion to Dallas, Texas and Jacksonville, Florida.

Speaking of St. Louis, David Sandusky (one of the three finalists) is also from The Gateway to the West. He is the owner and pitmaster of BEAST Craft BBQ Company, which regularly shows up on “Best of” lists for that famed barbecue city. Notably, Sandusky has opened two additional BEAST Craft restaurants in the St. Louis area, and all three have received accolades.

Fellow finalist Ara Malekian is the owner and pitmaster behind Harlem Road Texas BBQ in Richmond, Texas, which is a small town about 30 minutes southwest of Houston. Shortly after the restaurant opened in 2018, Texas Monthly BBQ Editor Daniel Vaughn called Harlem Road Texas BBQ “worth the journey” from Houston, particularly for the beef rib which Malekian modeled after Louie Mueller.

Contestant Christopher Prieto opened Prime Barbecue in Knightdale, NC (15 miles east of Raleigh) in May 2020 after years of careful planning. I was a big fan of the food and beautifully decorated building during a media event pre-opening, and I need to make the trip back. Prime Barbecue sells out nearly every day and is doing a great job feeding the locals.

Oh, and let’s not forget famed pitmaster Rodney Scott as one of the judges. Not too much more needs to be said about the budding barbecue empire-builder that hasn’t already been said in countless podcasts, interviews, profiles, as well as his episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table: BBQ episode. Scott brought BBQ star power to the judges’ table.

Real Challenges

Other competition shows like Chopped: Grill Masters feature pitmasters cooking in a kitchen with pre-smoked or pre-grilled ingredients. BBQ Brawl, on the other hand, was all live fire with the fun and drama that comes with cooking in the elements at the Star Hill Ranch outside of Austin.

For instance, Christopher Prieto had a chili mishap when the rocks of his campfire shifted from beneath the chili pot, spilling most but not all of his pot but unfortunately imparting a bitter smoke flavor to the chill. He managed to avoid going home that week, lucky for him.

Other contestants often encountered issues when they were assigned to cook some sort of dessert because of the unevenness of the heat when cooking over fire and coals. That is, other than the more classically-trained chefs in Taylor Carroll or Ara Malekian, who seemed to have little issue.

Then there’s David Sandusky, who seemingly majored in time mismanagement even while making it to the finale. The number of times he had to pivot his dish due to the live-fire not cooperating with his cooks could not be counted on one hand. Of course, this made for great TV as we never knew whether he was going to finish his food before the clock expired.

Representation of Women

This season, exactly half of the twelve contestants were women as well as two out of the final four. Contestants such as Lu Holter of Hudson, Wisconsin, Taylor Shulman Carroll of Southern Belle BBQ in Atlanta, and Brittani Bo Baker of Bubba’s Q Food Trucks in Tampa may not have won but they did well while making deep runs into the competition. 

Brittani was arguably the hottest contestant for much of the second half of the season, earning her the honor of being the first contestant stolen when Team Eddie got down to one contestant and stole her from Team Michael. When her time was up just before the finale, judge Brooke Wiliamson thanked her for representing women as well as she did.

Oh and did I mention that the winner and “Master of Cue” was also a woman? Erica Blaire Roby of Dayton, Ohio absolutely caught fire at the right time and got Bobby Flay his second win in as many seasons of the show. Blaire is a former lawyer and sommelier and now will have a significantly higher profile in the food world. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next in her reign as “Master of Cue” and the Food Network Digital deal that comes along with it.

Overall Presentation

If I’m being honest, Food Network shows aren’t always known for their production quality. Thankfully, BBQ Brawl as a TV show took a step up in production in season two, notably in set design, cooking montages, and music.

In terms of judges, season one of BBQ Brawl featured an all-star barbecue panel in Amy Mills, Chris Lilly, and Moe Cason while season two mixed it up to great effect. The aforementioned Rodney Scott filled out the barbecue role on the panel while Top Chef: Charleston winner Brooke Williamson could intelligently critique the more technical details of the food.

And love him or hate him, Carson Kressley of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fame added levity to the seriousness of competitions with his bubbly demeanor and sometimes-groan-inducing-but-nevertheless-clever puns.

You Can Actually Try the Contestants’ Food

Watching food competitions is one thing, but being able to taste the food from the show is even better.

In episode four “Gameday BBQ,” Prieto created what he called his “Triple Threat Wings” that are smoked, fried, and then finished on the grill. These wings actually won the advantage challenge for Team Eddie and now they are a Wednesday special at Prieto’s Prime Barbecue in Knightdale, North Carolina.

Ara Malekian smoked his famous beef rib in the finale, which wowed the judges. You can taste for yourself at Harlem Road Texas BBQ in Richmond, Texas.

You can also try a giant 30 oz. version of David Sandusky’s pork steak from the finale at Beast Craft BBQ in St. Louis, Missouri.

All in all, BBQ Brawl certainly fit the description of “must see TV” this summer for barbecue fans. In an era when very little TV is truly “must see” due to splintered audiences across network, cable, and the ever-growing number of streaming platforms, this was one show I consistently tuned in live week to week. I have yet to see whether Food Network has renewed it for a season 3, but I certainly hope we have some more BBQ Brawl to look forward to next summer.

What was your favorite part of BBQ Brawl Season 2? Are you hoping for a season 3?