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

Linkdown: 2/23/22

This morning, Axios Charlotte brings details on the upcoming Carolina Barbecue Festival to be held May 22 at Camp North End in Charlotte. I’ve heard rumors of a Charlotte barbecue festival starting last summer from Donald himself and more recently from Garren Kirkman of Jon G’s. But this festival is shaping up to be quite the event, with a roster of notable pit bosses from Barbecue Bros favorites from all over the Carolinas including Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque (who grew up in Charlotte), Elliot Moss of Asheville’s Buxton Hall Barbecue, Nathan Monk of Lexington Barbecue, Matthew Register of Southern Smoke in Garland, Tay Nelson of Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, SC, and Brandon Shepard of Shepard’s Barbecue in Emerald Isle. Master Blend Family Farm, a family-owned farm in Kenansville, N.C., will contribute the hogs for the event.

The day looks to be full of Carolina barbecue (be it east, west, or South), beer, local music, and charity, with the proceeds going to nonprofits Piedmont Culinary Guild, World Central Kitchen and Operation Barbecue Relief. And I’m here for it.

More details and tickets at carolinabbqfest.org

Native News

John Tanner’s been making the rounds in NC lately with fruitful stops at Troutman’s Barbecue in Denton

…as well as Dickie-Do’s BBQ in Haw River where he discovered some delicious, smoky barbecue

Jon G’s will be back in Waxhaw today

Charlotte Magazine has a pretty straightforward list of Where to Get Barbecue in Charlotte for 2022

Non-Native News

Now’s your chance to get your barbecue story featured on the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy Podcast

Cattleack Barbeque, Hurtado Barbecue, and Heim Barbecue make Eater Dallas’ Essential Restaurants for the city

Latest Blake’s BBQ building update

At Brett’s BBQ Shop, J.C. Reid dug the sausages

Very curious to see who Tesla gets to smoke the barbecue at what could be the “Largest Barbecue in Texas” at their Austin Gigafactory

More coverage on the passing of Rene “Ray” Rodriguez

Chef Michael Symon’s Mabel’s BBQ is expanding

AMEN

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Michael Symon’s Playing With Fire” by Michael Symon

Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

Monk: Michael Symon’s Playing with Fire: BBQ and More from the Grill, Smoker, and Fireplace: A Cookbook is part of a recent trend of cookbooks from barbecue personalities. See: Rodney Scott (2021), Aaron Franklin (2015), Matthew Register (2019), Christopher Prieto (2019), Ed Randolph (2019), Sam Jones (2019), and Elliott Moss (2016). Not that I mind, as it has clearly given me lots of content over the years.

As for Michael Symon’s contribution to the barbecue cookbook world (which came out in 2018), he starts off with a short “love letter to live-fire cooking” and that sets the tone for the rest of the book. Not strictly a barbecue book, Symon includes a lot of grilling recipes informed by his love of Cleveland.

Symon makes his case for “Cleveland-style barbecue,” which is “a style and menu that draw upon Cleveland’s rich cultural heritage, much of which is firmly rooted in eastern Europe.” He goes on “We season meats with Jewish deli-style pastrami spices, our kielbasa is made by a sixty-year-old Ukrainian butcher at the West Side Market, we smoke over locally sourced apple- and cherrywoods; we serve Hungarian-based sides like spaetzle and cabbage; our tangy mustard-based sauce is designed around the legendary local stadium-style mustard Bertman Ball Park.”

Outside of the typical barbecue recipes, that is what sets this book apart. I was disappointed that we only really get Symon’s perspective in the introductory letter and some of the short intros to the recipes. Contrasted with Rodney Scott’s recent book that bared so much of his barbecue soul and history, it seems like a missed opportunity.

All in all, Michael Symon’s “Playing with Fire” features nice food photography and a slightly different point of view, but is far from an essential barbecue book. I’d recommend checking out the books from Sam Jones, Elliott Moss, Rodney Scott, or Aaron Franklin first and then preview this book at your library to see if Cleveland-style barbecue and live-fire cooking with ingredients native to that region is of interest to you.