For me and likely many others, this is the show that got me into barbecue on television. It’s first season (the only one currently available on Max) was filmed documentary style, following several competitors over the course of a barbecue competition season across the country. Myron Mixon and Tuffy Stone were two of the competitors followed during the course of this format and would go on to be full-time judges starting in season 3. Noted competition pitmasters Danielle Bennett (aka Diva Q), Johnny Trig, and Harry Soo are also featured in season 1.
Across three seasons of the travel show co-produced by the Texas Beef Council, host and native Texan Kelsey Pribilski (along with Austrialian-turned-Texas Jess Pryles in season 3) criss-crosses Texas to meet with some of the best pitmasters in the state. She’s in search of the state’s best barbecue as well as secret barbecue menu items. The first season gets the large cities (Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth) out of the way, while season two and three are able to tackle more remote locales. Texas Monthly Barbecue Editor Daniel Vaughn even makes an appearance as Kelsey’s guide for the Big Bend episode (S2E1).
This series was originally made for PBS Austin but is available on both the free PBS streaming app as well as Prime Video. This is very much a process-oriented series about brisket, sausage, whole hog, and other aspects of a barbecue smoke, but Franklin’s such an easygoing on-screen presence that its definitely worth a watch.
Chef’s Table: BBQ (Netflix)
This barbecue and live-fire cooking edition of the Chef’s Table series profiles 4 pitmasters or live-fire cooking chefs, with the Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow’s Barbecue and Rodney Scott episodes being the highlight for American barbecue fans.
Monk: “BBQ USA” wrapped up its first season last week, so I figured I’d check back in and offer my thoughts on the show now that all six episodes have aired.
I noted in my first impression post that I hoped it would continue to in the same vein as the first episode. And it largely did, with host Michael Symon repeating the format at subsequent episodes taking place at festivals in Georgia, Texas, Alabama, New Jersey, and Memphis. While competition barbecue is not my favorite style of barbecue, seeing the teams the show follows compete not only against each other but the entire field makes for good television.
I also wondered if there would be continuity of contestants at the various competitions like there was with “BBQ Pitmasters” season 1 but in the subsequent episodes we meet new competition teams each time and follow them through that competition only. While it would have been nice to follow a team’s complete journey across a series of competitions, that’s actually ok with me. Logistically, I don’t know that there are teams that would be at each of those competitions due to the wide geography and even if there were, it could only have been the bigger, more successful teams. Sometimes, the drama was in watching the newer teams learning from poor showings or harsh scores.
While most competitions were KCBS-sanctioned events, they did visit a Georgia Barbecue Association competition in Tifton, GA as well as Memphis in May, which is a Memphis Barbecue Network event. For the Georgia Barbecue Association its all pork so instead of chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket its pork ribs, pork tenderloin and pork shoulder in the blind box turn-ins. Memphis in May does the usual meats in blind box judging but also add an in-person presentation element. If there is a season 2, perhaps they will include other competition formats. May I recommend the Whole Hog Barbecue Series?
Speaking of which, as of this writing there is no season 2 announced but after this first season I for one would be in favor of it. There are so many other parts of the country to visit and other competition formats to explore. “BBQ USA” stands on its own, not only as a docu-series but also as a companion show to the competition format of “BBQ Brawl.”
What about you? What were your thoughts on “BBQ USA”? Are you hoping for a second season?
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
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