Monk: I’ve spend the past two summers recapping Food Network’s “BBQ Brawl” on a weekly basis and while I’m proud of those efforts, ain’t nobody got time for that this year. Instead, let’s take a holistic look at the four barbecue programs that have premiered in the past few months. And what’s more fun than power ranking them?
In reverse order:
4. “Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue” (PBS)
“Barbecue” is in the name but Steven Raichlen’s latest show is really more about showcasing the live fire cooking and grilling customs from around the world more than low and slow barbecue. The format is a little bit of history of the barbecue tradition followed by cooking demonstrations of 3 dishes in the vein of a classic Cooking Channel show, oftentimes including a veggie meal or salad. Ultimately, this is just not my favorite barbecue TV show format.
Confusingly, the “Texas Trinity” episode features grilled quail with pear salsa and blue cheese farrotto, a smoked, grilled rib-eye steaks with jalapeno horseradish butter, and a hot gut hero (beef sausage and pepper jack cheese sandwich).
3. “Barbecue Showdown” (Netflix)
Season 2 of this Netflix series (formerly titled “The American Barbecue Showdown”) premiered on May 26, 2023 and while it has a new host (Michelle Buteau replaces Rutledge Wood), it maintains the same judges (Melissa Cookston and Kevin Bludso), format, and setting from season 1. While the first season had a novelty factor for me, when it comes to the mostly unknown contestants in season 2 I found myself rooting for a couple of while bemoaning the apparent skill level of the rest.
One season 2 improvement that I do like is that the show has introduced a presentation element to most of the challenges, such as a slicing reveal to show the viewer the doneness of the meat at the same time as the judges. This visual cue helps the viewer understand the quality of the food since current TV technology unfortunately does not allow us to taste the end product (much to our collective dismay).
2. “BBQ Brawl” (Food Network)
For me, “BBQ Brawl” is the more polished and entertaining version of the barbecue cookoff format than “Barbecue Showdown.” In addition to returning captains Bobby Flay and Anne Burrell, in season four there is a new face in the form of Sunny Anderson (replacing Jet Tila) and they’ve also traded Austin, TX for Half Moon Bay, CA. The judges – Carson Kressly, Brooke Williamson, and Rodney Scott – remain the same as they have been since season 2, which is a plus for me. The cooking here appears to be at a higher level than “Barbecue Showdown” which is why it edges it out for me.
1. “BBQ USA” (Food Network)
I noted that season 1 of Michael Symon’s “BBQ USA” was spiritually similar to “BBQ Pitmasters” season 1 in that it focused on a few teams at an actual barbecue competition and followed them through the competition and judging. It seems as if season 2’s philosophy is “more, but different” in that they are using the same format while visiting different events from season 1; in episode 1 they visited the American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City where over 500 teams competed in all categories. Future stops this season will take in competitions in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Washington, and NYC.
What’s your favorite barbecue show this summer?