Shepard Barbecue on “Diners, Drive-In’s, and Dives” S42 E34

Link to Shepard Barbecue website, Instagram

Monk: Guy Fieri was on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina earlier this year and checked out relative newcomer Shepard Barbecue in Emerald Isle. Episode 34 of season 42 (!!) actually kicks off with Chef Brandon Shepard, who with his wife Elizabeth started a barbecue joint that draws inspiration from not only eastern NC but of course all over (i.e. Texas).

Brandon, Guy, and his son Hunter kick things off by putting together the Boss Hog sandwich. They start with the prep of jalapeno cheddar sausage made from trimmings of both brisket as well as pork. After a couple of grinds, the sausages are cold smoked for two-and-a-half hours before another 3 at a higher temp. Brandon does all his smoking on a custom offset stick burner using a mixture of hickory, post oak, and pecan.

For his pork butts, he keeps it simple with just a salt and pepper rub and smoked 10 hours. He mixes in his Carolina Vinegar sauce and puts a tray of that away for service.

Back to the Boss Hog, Brandon walks through the making of his Carolina Gold mustard sauce with yellow and Dijon mustards plus his Carolina Vinegar sauce, white vinegar, Worcestershire and a bunch of spices.

For the sandwich, the bun is brushed with beef tallow (!!) and garlic before starting the stack of slaw, sausage, pulled pork, Carolina Gold sauce, pickled red onions to create a behemoth of a sandwich.

Next, onto the “Spicy Heifer,” another big boy of a sandwich made with prime brisket.

The brisket is doused with a mixture of Carolina Gold sauce and pickle juice before covering in salt, pepper, seasoning salt, and granulated garlic. It is then smoked at 225F for 12-16 hours.

Shepard’s red barbecue sauce is a vinegar-based sauce with ketchup, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Carolina Vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, and other spices before taking a smoke bath.

Shepard then assembles the Spicy Heifer starting with pickles then sausage then brisket then Carolina red sauce and finally topped with pickled jalapenos and white onion. Behold:

Among the house made sides mentioned are Helen’s collards (inspired by his grandmother), pit beans, and street corn salad. Congrats on a great showing by Shepard Barbecue to Brandon and his wife Elizabeth!

Barbecue Bros AV Club: Checking in with “BBQ USA”

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?

Barbecue Bros AV Club: First Impressions of “BBQ USA”

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

Barbecue Bros AV Club: “BBQ Brawl“ S3 E8 – “Impress Us”

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!

It’s the super-sized season finale of this mixed bag of a season 3, and the final 3 contestants – Winnie, Don, and Rashad – walk into a setup of cinder block pits where Team Bobby’s station used to be. Anne and Jet do a walk of their own, gloating how they have already beaten Bobby Flay. The judges introduce the challenge for the finale, which is they contestants have 6 hours to cook a whole suckling pig (roughly 30-40 pounds) and create a barbecue feast for the judges. However, there will surely be a couple of advantage challenges along the way.

Each contestant gives a brief overview of their vision for the finale meal: Don with an “East Meets West” including the use of the durian fruit, Rashad doing on ode to SC whole hog (and Rodney) while mixing in some Florida tweaks, Winnie goes “International Food Feast,” a catch-all we’ve seen a few times this season.

Breakfast Sandwich Challenge

An hour in, the judges announce a mini-challenge to give the contestants 20 minutes to create a barbecue breakfast challenge. The winner gets to consult with Rodney Scott for 10 minutes, surely a big advantage for each of the contestants who have never smoked a whole pig on a cinder block pit.

Don and Winnie don’t seem to initially focus on the sandwich challenge before kicking it into gear at the very end of the 20 minutes. Rashad, on the other hand, focuses immediately and his classic sausage egg and cheese sandwich wins him the advantage of working with Rodney Scott for 10 minutes, a big plus since he actually is doing a SC-inspired whole hog.

Rodney immediately puts on his backward Rodney Scott’s BBQ hat and gets to work, diagnosing a few improvements to Rashad’s pit and sets him on his way. He does not share any tips with his teammate-turned-competitor Don, but the bromance is by no means on the rocks.

Three hours in, the teams start flipping the hogs. Don and Winnie started face down so flip it so that the skin is down for the rest of the cook. Don is going for a “Hong Kong crispy skin” for his hog, so douses it in salt to help crisp the skin in a matter not unlike eastern NC whole hog. Rashad actually opts not to flip his hog which he started face up in order to maintain the juices he’s got going.

Chicken Wings Challenge

The judges interrupt for one final challenge that will allow the winner to choose the order of tasting in the finale. Winnie opts to rub the wings and immediately fry them first before making her beer-based “drunken sauce.” Don is going back to his “fish sauce caramel” wings from early in the season (but with more spice) and immediately throws them onto the smoker before going fryer. Rashad is going for a citrusy wing and starts them on the grill before he moves to the fryer. His fryer is down but Winnie gives him use of hers with just enough time to finish. You love to see it.

Although she may regret being so gracious when Rashad wins yet again (Carson says its the best wing he’s ever eaten) and chooses for him to go first, Don second, and her last.

From there, the contestants pull the hogs off their smokers and let them rest. They then begin final preparations in the final hour and start bringing it all together for their feast. While Don has a cohesive theme and Rashad also seems focused, Winnie’s got a little bit of everything between her hog three ways, a beef tenderloin, and a lamb ragu with homemade pappardelle. Seems like she might have overextended herself but if each dish hits it may pay off. She’s even finishing up her macarons right up until the very end but manages to get them on the plate.

Results

The contestants, captains (including Bobby), and judges sit down for the final meal. Rashad goes first and in general knocks it out of the park. The pig is smoked as if he’s been doing this awhile according to Bobby, and there are no major dings in any of his sides.

Don’s pig is smoked immaculately and in particular the crispy skin. Less successful are his rice pots which burned the rice and his durian banana pudding. It does not appear that his gamble quite paid off.

Rashad is the winner of the finale and named “Master of ‘Cue!” He is gracious in his win, thanking each and every one at the table. Particularly his captain Anne, who officially dethrones Bobby as the winning captain.

Final Thoughts

Rashad is a super-likable guy and a worthy winner, but Winnie and Don would have equally been as deserving. While I have been down on this season, it was not because of the contestants or talent or setting or production. Keep all of that but lets get back to true live-fire cooking challenges. I’ll still be watching but my level of interest may be slightly less if things continue in the “Instagram viral” or “Chopped”-style mystery box challenges.

Until next summer…