Posts Tagged ‘BBQ Competition’
Day 5 – 25 Days of Christmas BBQ Blogging…..
A bbq friend of mine John has a terrific website PatioDaddioBBQ.com . He recently did a review of the new TLC pitmasters show on TLC now airing Thursday nights 10pm E/9C. Johns blog gave me the idea to interview John and the cast of the TLC Pitmasters show.
Here is his review reprinted with his permission,
Tonight was the premier of the new eight-week docu-series, BBQ Pitmasters on TLC. I thought that I would offer a short review of each episode from the point of view of a fellow competitor.
The clip below gives you some idea of what happened in the first installment. I can say that it is an accurate portrayal of how weather can and does affect a competition. The conditions were reminiscent of a couple of the competitions I’ve participated in.
must say that the show is just about what I had envisioned based on my interview with Executive Producer, John Markus, and others I’ve read and heard. It is indeed faithful to what actually happens at a competition. It shows the mix of personalities, the conditions, the pressure, and the humility that is mercilessly dispensed at the awards ceremony. I’m sure that Paul Petersen can really relate to that last part. Some may think that falling asleep and ignoring a cook is far-fetched, but it is not at all unusual.
While I’m happy that the show was authentic in covering what really happens in competition barbecue, I was somewhat surprised and disappointed in the abundance of foul language, especially from Myron. I know it’s part of the “reality”, but it’s sad when I can’t relax and watch the show with my kids. In my view, it was completely unnecessary. This is a common sentiment from what I am seeing on some of the BBQ forums.
All in all, the show is outstanding so far. If it continues in the same vein I think it will serve competition barbecue well.
Now heres my opinion:
I loved it. Every single moment of it.
I waited along with everyone else in the Competition world to see if they could do it. I wanted them to succeed. I won’t make any bones about it – I am biased completely. At some point I think they will need a Canadian Chick. LOL I wanted for them to produce a show and know that they “got” it. Did they get the real deal?
There are loads of reviews and critiques being written on all the BBQ forums. When it comes down to it though it gives people on the outside of this wonderful world of Competition BBQ a good glimpse of what really happens. Its good exposure for BBQ. I hope that the big companies out there take notice. That the competitions get more money. That KCBS, IBCA, PNWBA, FBA, NEBS and every other sanctioning body out there gets more bodies to their comps wanting to enter this unique “sport.”
Each of the cast has been picked because of their unique personalities. It achieved the goal of making it interesting highly viewable TV. The sour grapes I have been reading about from some teams seems to be missing the point. The point is to follow these characters not follow everyone in the world of BBQ.
Its a docu-drama on what happens. Did I like Paul Petersens lack of prep and research – Nope in fact it made me cringe. Did I like Myrons foul language – Nope I wanted to wash his mouth out with soap and ask him if he talked to his Momma with that mouth.(Seriously Gordon Ramsay has nothing on him) However will I watch again – I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
It makes you want to watch it. I want to know how Harry gets on, does Paul learn a bit, does Myron ever talk without a swear word, is Tuffy really that nice, where is Jamie Geer?, Can Lee Ann really cook BBQ ?, and finally does Captain parkay himself Johnny Trigg talk more? I want to watch period.
They did it. They created a Competition BBQ show that appeals to a vast audience.
Day 4 – 25 Days of Christmas Blogging
One of my favorite contests from 2009 and was the Roc City Rib Fest.
It was a first year contest that was incredibly well organized by Good Smoke BBQ. You can really tell the difference when cooks organize a contest. I know we will be making the trek again this year. Heres the writeup about the event when I got back.
Here is the press release:
Get ready Rochester! Roc City Rib Fest is back and going to be bigger than ever!
We are very happy to welcome back our title sponsor Alex’s Place! Great to have you back on board!
We must be crazy because we are more than doubling the prize money this year and adding a grilling competition! NOW $15,000 in PRIZE money! (see competitor section for details)
Also introducing our first every Vendor’s People’s Choice Competition on Monday May 31st!
Want to learn more about Professional Competition BBQ? Then you have to tune in to the new reality series BBQ Pitmasters On TLC Thursday nights at 10pm. Watch some of the best cooks in the country battle it out!
Give The Gift of Competition!
See the website for details…
They even have a commercial running on youtube:
An in Depth interview with the ever so modest Tuffy Stone.
I first met Tuffy Stone at the Jack in 2008. I was setting up some stuff getting everything in order for a night of watching the pits when this lithe lanky guy strolls over with a genuine smile on his face. He sheepishly introduced himself and asked if I would be the first person to sign his Jack lid. I knew who he was well in advance of him coming over. I had read about him and his accomplishments many times prior to this first meeting. I could not believe the Tuffy Stone would take the time to come all the way over to the International section (well apart from all the US teams) and ask a Canadian Chick to sign his lid. To me that was incredibly cool.
Since that first meeting I have had some truly heartfelt conversations with this incredibly humble man. I can proudly call him a friend and also a BBQ mentor. I have been blessed to have many BBQ mentors over the last 4 years. I have eaten at his restaurant Q Barbeque. Its terrific competition quality. More than ever he is a modest man with more Culinary skills that I could ever dream of. He has cooked with some of the finest chefs on the planet – Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Julia Child……( Some whose restaurants are on my own personal bucket list. )
Ok just another warning Tuffy likes to talk. A lot. Its a good thing. It also makes it near impossible to leave out things. Get comfortable.
We begun our interview as he was leaving Richmond, VA to go to Hampton taking drawings to the health department and meeting with his partners. He has been pushing himself really hard the last few months. Juggling a successful restaurant (Q Barbecue) ,a Gourmet Catering Company (a Sharper Palate), Competitions, and now the TLC BBQ Pitmasters Series.
In his own words he says “I beat up the road pretty hard the last 3 months. To be in Richmond and not have to go anywhere has been a transition. It is becoming therapeutic. It’s interesting. It was like when I first didn’t have to go anywhere it was good – I feel healthy again. “
Q- How did you get the name Tuffy?
TS- My mother gave it to me when I was about two. When we opened A Sharper Palate, I thought I would put George on my business card, to be more professional. It lasted about a week, as everyone in Richmond already knew me as Tuffy. So Tuffy it is.
Q- What can you tell me about your new BBQ restaurant?
TS-Its going to be a really cool place. I am really excited. Located in Hampton Virginia Peninsula Town Centre. It will be a Lifestyle centre. We are working with an architectural group out of Ohio that has really enhanced and embraced our brand.
It is about 3500 S feet 120 seats indoors and about 32 outdoors. I am excited about the designs I think it’s once again casual quick dining you order your food and we bring it to you. The smokers are going to be visible once again – in a glassed in room that will house two smokers so it will be once again a very visual maybe even more so that Q in Richmond.
It’s comfortable it will appeal to grandmothers and grand babies – We are getting that at Q already. I love looking out in the dining room at Q seeing all ages and backgrounds.
I love a BBQ joint but I didn’t envision Q to be a joint. All that being said – I have thought about what I wanted it to be… I wanted to have a farmer in one booth and a Doctor in another booth. I want it to appeal to everyone. The design is fresh and perhaps modern I don’t want to scare anyone away.
Q-What made you decide to open another restaurant?
TS-We had a situation come to us. The developer for this town centre is very successful man who happens to have been one of the developers of two or three largest lifestyles centres in the Country Ohio. My partner and his reputation have brought the man around. When he saw Q he really wanted to put Q in this location. HE courted us and we struck up a good relationship and a good deal. It’s probably sooner than I would have expected for us to do a second property but it makes sense to do it.
Q-When will it be opened and what will it be called?
TS-I believe it’s going to be called Q. Our date for opening is March 11, 2010
I have lots of trademarks that have been in the works for a long time all of this stuff to should be coming to a close. It’s a painful process. I have also thought of Cool Smoke as a name – it’s close to my heart. But overall I think it will be Q.
Edward who has designed Q Has won lots of awards. He drips with talent. He has been featured in CA magazine. This whole thing is such a passion for both of us. We spend hours on the phone working on all sorts of cool stuff. Making it better. We have a new website going live on Thursday (Dec 3 2009) we are having fun together.
Q-How did you transition from being a gourmet cook to a BBQ’er
TS-My catering company A Sharper palate is so formal. I have been cooking for a living since the 80s. Sharper Palate is still alive and kicking and pays the mortgages for a lot of people. We are into the process of reinventing ourselves there for the next 15 years.
BBQ is how I got reconnected with cooking. It’s fun and its refreshing and I can spend hours talking about why BBQ is so beautiful. BBQ came along… and you don’t have anyone intimidated by BBQ.
BBQ initially kicked my ass. I came in there knowing how to make Beurre blancs but BBQ is harder than it looks.
Q- Do you see shades of yourself in Paul Petersen.
TS- I can relate to Paul Petersen. I never saw the Paul Petersen where he is cocky. He might have been there in the original stages (I can’t relate to that part I am not cocky) I can relate we had a good conversation after Mesquite after awards in the first episode.
When I came in to BBQ with all of the things I had learned as a gourmet chef over the years I thought I would be able to apply those things and make it and define BBQ better. Demi glace on briskets. Or white truffle sauce so aromatic and sexy and lovely and that might be a nice flavour enhancer on brisket. The further I got away from the typical BBQ in the sense of flavour profile or expectations the worse I did. That being said the first competition I did I got a 2nd place pork and a 7th brisket call. I didn’t do bad coming out but I did have to regroup. I had to try to figure out what people thought of BBQ. Plus what I think it takes to do well. Hopefully you should never get too far away from the traditional flavours. I told all this to Paul Petersen take the skills from the kitchen but do not reinvent BBQ or surprise them.
So I guess how I relate to Paul Petersen is having an interesting Gourmet food. I can relate in a lot of those kind of things. There is always a level to us.
Q-Seriously Smack talk?? From you? How hard was it for you as you are lovingly referred to as the professor, Mr Rogers and so beloved by the BBQ community.
TS-Well I was part of the sizzle reel . John has hinted around that he had cast me as the professor as I could speak easily about BBQ . John only wanted us to smack talk if it felt natural. Keeping things genuine. I thought about this. I gave it great thought. I figured it all in my head. I had to figure out how I would be in front of the camera in general.
What could I say to keep true to myself but also add to the show? It all panned out as far as they were concerned. I always thought or guessed that you always had to be too overly confident or held yourself in high regards to talk smack. I think my grandfather come out because I am much more humble than that. I said those things in good fun and good nature.
I have a good rapport with Johnny Trigg. You have to be able to take it and dish it out as well. It took me many years to dish it out to him. He dishes it out a lot more. He is much more proficient at smack talking that I am.
Q-How did you become involved with the show?
TS-John called me about the show. I have known John Markus for a bit now. I got to know him through Johnny Trigg mainly. John Markus is such a wonderful and interesting person. I love to read what he has to say and listen to what he has to say. I wish I could speak as well as he does he is so eloquent. His words are so eloquent.
It doesn’t matter how brief a conversation may be with John Markus or what’s talked about its always going to be that way with him. He always impresses me.
We have a rapport and I got to know him more then he got his Geer pit and in a couple of contests and giving him my thoughts on cooking on it and BBQ. Trying to hopefully help him with that process. We were neighbours in Dover Delaware one year and close at the GAB and those times cooking on the Geer pit. I know I am scolded sometimes for sharing or telling too much I can’t help it just bubbles out.
He came down to a competition and he filmed a little bit and my thoughts about Myron . When he was leaving he said “I have something else to talk to you about.” I was cooking by myself at Dillard Georgia and I got the call.
He sent me a text message one day while I was playing football with my son Sam. I had sent him a txt wishing him luck as I knew they would be doing the pitch to TLC on the Friday. Later I got a message back and they had picked up the show and at the time they had purchased 6 episodes that I helped sell the show and got a thank you from him.
I didn’t want to come across unexcited so I sent him back a txt expressing my congratulations. He went on to give me more details. He didn’t come out and say I was on the show and then later on John Markus said I was in. I didn’t respond quickly. I had been playing football. I didn’t want him thinking I was unappreciative.
Q- What were some of the Challenges of the show?
TS-The show has a lot of challenges I like them. I continuing to learn and grow- I am 47 now. I keep trying to take on new things in life. My perspective is just like the Nike tag line- just do it.
Q- What are some of the details on how you came to a life of BBQ and your first pit.
TS-I had already really worked hard to be a gourmet cook. But I had worked hard to raise my skills as a cook not to be just a cook but a great cook. My catering business is part of that. I would say that in mid 90s I used to volunteer to cook at an even at the masters of food & wine in Carmel CA (just some of the chefs names-Alice Waters ,Jacques Pepin, Charlie Trotter ,Julia Child_. I would do anything they asked (I would make tomato confit, I overcooked Jacques Pepin duck breast -thats a long story LOL) and fill my brain as much as I could after working 16 -18 hours and writing my journal. I wanted to make my impact. For some reason to be a chef owner of a Gourmet catering company- it’s difficult to make a name for yourself like going into a James beard dinner , I really needed to have a public venue. While I had a successful company and food and provided good employment for myself and employees I needed to stop worrying about being in the Gourmet part. I had convinced myself of that. So I just tried to go to be about a good dad, employer, husband, son and cook.
Our business grew but I got disconnected with cooking. In this process for some reason I knew it would be with a wood fire. I spent all this time researching pits. Then through that process I found the BBQ forum in 2004. I asked all those questions. I got a load of hickory and my first pit was a Lang 84 I went off to my first contest Johnny Trigg was there- I was stuffing wood in my pit all night as I thought that’s what you had to do and stick burners seemed to be the ones who had to stay up all night. He hadn’t even lit his pit. I didn’t know who he was. He had this big motor coach and this pretty pit. I was really curious. About 330 / 4am he was just getting his pit lit. I walked over and started talking to him. He won that contest and I fell in love with Geer pits.
I went down this path of BBQ. I love all the different pits out there. I think I cook on a stick burner (a Geer Pit) because its primal and basic. I think anyone who ever had to bake a cake with a wood burning oven could make it better than anyone. Having to run that fire clean is something. This whole world of BBQ turned me on to a whole new world of people. On a side note I have had to change my cell phone plans so many times because I get talking and its a $400.00 bill. The talk is always about BBQ. I want to keep talking everywhere. It’s the way I feel.
This whole BBQ thing got me reconnected to cooking. I love the humility of it all. I like the fact that BBQ kicked my ass. You take modest cuts of meat and you have to coax out greatness. What seems so simple on the outside is so really complicated on the inside. I love that it appeals to everybody. I would probably say globally. There are so many wonderful things about it. The BBQ family is a beautiful thing. I love competing against my friends seeing them win and myself as well.
It’s been one journey of a lifetime.
Q- When do you believe it is the right time to label yourself a pit master?
TS-Golly. You can ask that question many ways. I always had such a reverence for the word chef. Being called a pit master is like that. It was given to me by others before I was comfortable with it. If someone calls me a pit master today would I be comfortable? / I would just say I am just getting comfortable with the start of it. A couple or three years ago technically I think you could have called me a pit master but I think i may just be starting to get comfortable
Q- What’s the definition of pit master to you?
TS-You have to have knowledge of your own pits but it needs to go beyond that – that you could step up to anyone’s pit and figure it out and have the knowledge to do it. Reading can help but no teacher is better than doing it. You need to understand butchering. It wouldn’t hurt to know how break down a pig or cow. You need to be able to know how to make a BBQ sauce or BBQ rub. So how to cook all the different meats to the right tenderness. How to retain good flavours and moisture.
Q- When will you teach a bbq class?
TS-I am not yet ready yet.
(He already has taught many culinary classes but when asked if he would do a BBQ class he pauses.)
I have hesitation due to my abstract thinking. I babble and I drift. To me subtleties and nuance and observation and things that move on you that you have to follow and watch I worry that if it was a class I would want to teach it would be a very abstract moving process. I would worry that too many people would want to know when and how to do things at an exact time. My cooks schedule is like that but it would be abstracted and I can talk a long time about smoke and cooking. I think there would be a population that would dig it and some people who would just say- what time do you put the rub on?
I know there is good money to be made and some of my friends are already doing it. For me though I think I am still learning so much.
I think I will want to share BBQ with people. I have always taught- I teach in Richmond all the time. I have been involved in a culinary arts program. I love what I am doing now. I see teaching a class at some point. I just hope the story I have to tell and what I want to convey will help people do really well. I am sure at some point I will.
Right now I am still digging in.
Q- What have been your observations about different pits (ie Charcoal and Pellets) since you are a stick burner.
TS-Charcoal cookers (stumps, wsm, backwoods -any small charcoal closed in pits) are different. I would have to become a real student of the fuels ahead of time so I could embrace and absorb that. I would want to learn all about them thoroughly.
Pellet cookers have to do what I do in reverse. Stick burners and charcoal cookers have to worry about too much smoke and too much flavour. Pellet cookers (because they burn so clean) they have to focus on how to get more smoke and more flavour in – it’s the opposite.
Q-Do you think your modesty is a big hold back for you?
(He gives loads of credit to his Mom, Dad and Grandfather. He is uncomfortable with receiving compliments of any kind at all. He cringes at any mention of his accolades and his well thought of personality)
TS-My father is so funny and proud of the successes we have had at Cool Smoke, He is knocking on the door of 70 and this makes him happy. He embarrasses me sometimes when we are together. He likes to talk about it. When I am exposed to it I can’t stand it. He laughs. For example – We are pumping gas going to some competition and someone will say- nice pit. My Dad is right in there saying this pit won 3rd place at such and such a competition. I’ll turn to him and say “Dad why can’t you just say thank you very much. He is so proud of me” One day he turned to me and said You know what Tuffy there’s really not much fun in achieving so many things if you can’t tell people. I really didn’t have a response to that (he says with a chuckle).
For me, it’s just a challenge it’s the next contest not the last contest.
Now we have this TV show. It’s funny they did a piece on me near Richmond. One of the producers called me the Clark Kent of BBQ. Here I am filming a TV show. However no one in Richmond knew. Going all over the country going BBQing and no one knew in my own town of Cool Smokes achievements.
It’s interesting to me the second show we filmed was in Decatur. The first one I wasn’t uncomfortable in Mesquite. I didn’t know many people and we all were off to our own section. When I was in Decatur however a bunch of my friends were there. It seemed like everyone I knew was there. I was miked up and cameras were following me everywhere. I was so embarrassed all weekend. It goes back to my modesty. I want to make a difference in this life and I want to be humble. For me it was so weird having TV crews following me. I am still me.
A writer from Richmond asked me if I was going to have a big party for the premiere tonight. I said “no way.” I am going to be holed up in my house all by myself. Why? She asked. I just want to see what it’s like. She then asked comically-“ Have you turned into a diva??” I just laughed that’s so not me.
Q- Any contest in North America that you have never done before that you still want to do?
TS- I am going to go and cook Memphis in May this year.
Also until this year till this show I had never cooked a whole hog a couple of small suckling pigs but never a whole hog. Honestly speaking – (as a pitmaster) I always felt lacking as a BBQ person as I had not done a whole hog. This year I cooked a 165 lb hog. I bought a JOS (Jack’s Old South) cooker to do it in and peach wood. That was in a contest setting. It was cool.
Q- Do you think it will be easier after the TLC Pitmasters show that the public will understand the love of our sport of BBQ
TS-The people making it think it will. I am sitting here waiting for what it will end up being. I hope it shows how cool it is – what we all love to do each weekend.
There is such a depth and character to the personalities of this show and of all BBQ’ers. They all have passion. That’s what it is : passion.
I hope it gives it a really good face I hope its good TV. I think there are so many things that are depressing out there that I hope this is a really positive, joyful, experience. I Think the things that we do, the friends that we make is a really great group of people. I hope it gives them a good snapshot of this. I really think this show will do that.
Its time to repost this favorite of mine…
Today is in honor of the Jack. I have had the pleasure of competing there once (2008 we ended up being the Top International Team woot!) and we went earlier this year to support some of our near and dear BBQ friends. Its been said before and Ill say it here again the Jack Daniels Invitational BBQ competition is something incredibly special. I hope to have the privilege of going and competing there again someday.
A dear BBQ friend of mine and Sister in Smoke Angie Quaale from Completely Q-less came up with this great recipe. Her store in BC – Well Seasoned is insanely busy throughout the year but even more so right now. If you are ever in Langley, BC head on over you won’t be disappointed.
This is a great adult beverage to keep toasty and warm with on cold winter nights. I’ll be making a batch for Christmas Eve this year. I also plan on making this at next years BBQ Competitions. I think it will be a great midnight sippin drink.
Its one of those general recipes that just works. This is from Angies email when I asked her for it.
No real recipe…
It is really good quality apple juice (the not from concentrate in the refrigerated section is best – I think it is Tropicana) heated on the stove in a large pot with whole star anise, candied ginger, cinnamon sticks, dried figs, all spice berries, cloves, dried cranberries. Heat until you have as much flavour out of the spices/fruit as you want….if you leave it too long it will start to get bitter – strain and transfer to a crock pot. Add JD about 1-750 ml. Bottle for 6 litres of juice but you can make it your own strength preference. Let it sit in the crock pot on low to keep warm for your guests to enjoy. You can add a bit of honey if you like but I find the apple juice sweet enough.
I had the distinct pleasure to interview John Markus Executive Producer of the new TLC series BBQ Pitmasters. John is an award winning writer and producer. He has won an Emmy, a Peabody and two Humanitas prizes. His filmography credits include the Cosby Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Taxi, The Facts of Life, The BBQ Championship Series and The All-Star BBQ Showdown. However the award he is most proud of is something given to very few people a- PhB. A PhB is an honorary doctorate of BBQ bestowed upon him by the KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society), Ardie Davis alter ego Remus Powers. It is the only award in John’s home that has its own spotlight, the only one on display ,in its own special frame. It has a place of honor. I asked him where his other awards were. He answered well the Emmy is in the closet and I am not sure where the others are. This certainly endeared him to me with this statement.
He has apprenticed with BBQ legends. He can call Chris Lilly a close personal friend and has competed at the Royal with him many times with the Big Bob Gibson team. He has also learned the ropes from the Baron of Barbecue himself Paul Kirk. He has completed a documentary on the legendary 3 time World Champion Myron Mixon and his BBQ family. He even has his own team Central Pork West. He owns a big green egg, a WSM, a Backwoods, Jedmaster 3660, and a head turning gorgeous Jambo pit. He loves cooking on all of them. To him they all have wonderful strengths. He is well thought of by many of these legends for his honest and sincere and respectful approach to BBQ.
In his own words he says If it wasn’t for the quality of the people in BBQ I would not be in it this long. I have met people who are going to be lifelong friends. I am proud to say that I am one of the few Yankees that have been called Bubba.
I had expected to have just a short interview but what evolved was more of an hour long conversation with a BBQ friend. Hearing him describe the show and answering questions was truly inspiring. Just a warning this is the complete and full version of the interview. Just a little over 3600 words. I suggest you get comfortable.
Q How hard was it to pitch the show to the TLC Network since this is such a new concept. This show doesn’t involve redoing a house, having multiples of babies or Jon & Kate.
The show was pitched with 5-10 minutes of the Myron Mixon Documentary I had completed just to show an indepth look at what a BBQ person was. Plus some inspired footage of potential candidates it sold the show very quickly.
This is not a staged competition show. This is a docu drama (that’s what we call it) this looks at the lives of the people who compete almost full time who are entrenched in the world of competitive BBQ. This is a reality show where there is real reality. I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to TLC for being in the market for doing food. That’s how the show came about. TLC was asking how do we do a food show. Their minds were open. Then Original Media (Miami Ink, Stormchasers etc) have brilliant producers who work there – Jay Peterson, Charlie Corwin . They are virtuoso reality producers. They heard my take on the series and got it immediately -and knew where to go with it. They had been talking to some Networks that wanted a food show because they were ready. My first meeting with TLC and Original Media – I just said to them its Man Vs. Meat. That got their ears perked up. Then they were able to go into the world and subculture that is competition BBQ. What had been missing on TV (that TLC and Original Media got) was the idea that this is a passion, an obsession of people who practice something very artisanal. Just like American Chopper was a father & Son show they are building something. They are making something. My passion for this kind of TV is these people have to actually do something and do it well.
Q-How were the candidates chosen
They (the pitmasters Lee Ann Whippen, Johnny Triggs, Myron Mixon, Harry Soo, Paul Petersen, Tuffy Stone, Jamie Geer ) have been chosen as they are highly trained practitioners of this culinary art. To me they are folk heroes.
This is also why I did the documentary about Myron Mixon and his BBQ family . This is someone who lives to create something that pleases people. As Competitive BBQ’ers we understand what it means for people to look at you and say I have never tasted anything like this.
When I cast the show I cast it like I would a drama. I look at my cast as a big jigsaw puzzle. So if you look at the profiles there are 7 totally different types of people. They are different characters. They are comfortable with the cameras. The cameras are with them a week at a time. They are with them at their homes as they prep and then constantly at the competition. You need someone that can be themselves and give us their enthusiasm and eccentric character traits that make them oddball and real at the same time. They all have to be one family. Once I have that- I think I have a show. That’s how I will continue to cast the show. I will be putting lines out after the show hoping we get more. We want every color of the rainbow on the show.
Q- How do you think the TLC Pitmasters Series and the “sport” of competitive BBQ will be received by the general public.
I am sure this will sound a bit ego centric here but this is how I envision this. This is my dream and my hopes for the show are that the phones at the KCBS don’t stop ringing after this show airs. That anyone who sees it – will see it as being incredibly hard and incredibly challenging but so much damn fun. That they will go and spend whatever they have got on BBQ. I want them to understand that they can do it for a couple of hundred dollars. That they can start with a $200. pit and use Sams Club meat because they can possibly win with it. They don’t need to spend $14,000. on a big pit. They can work up to it. That’s my hope that people have the doors and windows opened up to a world they never knew existed. A world that looks enticing, that it looks friendly but looks really highly competitive. Plus at the end of the day they have bragging rights that no one can do this like you. All of our passion for the world of BBQ is going into this show.
TLC (to their credit)said to us as we edited this show please put a priority on explaining this world to the people who have never been in it. They are allowing us (and this is a first) to put the process on an equal level with the characters and story development. This is the direction we have been given.
As a comparison to another “reality” food competition- with all due respect to the Iron chefs it’s all about pyrotechnics. How do they know how to have micro cilantro around?? This show has actual meat inspectors, actual cookers, actual wood, hail, snow rain sometimes. We have blown out tires; we have destruction, we have teammates not getting along. We have people talking smack. We have people stealing ideas. We have a whole shigging explanation in the series. It happens to one of our cast. It happens to one of our cookers and he gets shigged and someone defines it to him.
Q- What are some of the goals for this show:
I want to bring people (both men & Women) in and want them to be there every week with these pitmasters. Plus also those who are in it already – I want them to be able to watch the show and say we got it. I want to hear from them and their comments. If we missed something I want to hear about. This comes from my personal experience as a competition cooker. Every moment we have been doing we have been cautious not to create scenarios.
Q-Were all of the competitions real or were they fabricated?
They were all real competitions except one. The one competition is not sold as a real competition. This is the Johnny Trigg Invitational shoot out. He got to make the rules and set the stakes. We call him the Godfather. The location was a beautiful Ranch house in Mineral Wells Texas. We brought our 7 pitmasters in and they were judged by Master IBCA judges. This was a rib only contest. Baby Backs and Spares. The twist that we gave the show was something really new. We wanted to open the mystique of judges. We also had a couple of rookie judges come in. We taped their judging and encouraged to have them speak freely right after scoring. To talk openly and honestly about the food they ate. Then we brought in all our cooks and sat them in front of the TV set and showed them the tape. All I can say is that there is a lot of bleeping in that scene. There were some cooks that said they liked this and others who said they never want to see this again.
Q- What were some of the conditions of the competitions like?
When we were in Mesquite someone stuck a thermopen in the pavement it was 134 F That’s when they started their cook in that and then it plummeted to 30F and then a huge hail storm rolled in. People were not sleeping, there was massive destruction. There were people pulling off meat at the last minute. Mentally and physically these competitions are really taxing. They require constant focus stamina and attention.
Q- General observations about competitive BBQ’ers
You get to know who is serious. You just need to look around and see who is not drinking. They learn from their mistakes and not personalize the defeat as well as well as their victories. You have a job to do. You can’ be cursing judges. It’s really all about being level headed and realistic about your gifts and how you get better.
This pursuit is a lifelong art. The learning curve is just years long.
Q- When is your next competition with your own team?
I would like to return to the Hudson Valley Ribfest for 2010.
Q- Who is on your team Central Pork West?
Well regularly, we have a Texan Cowgirl – Nicole Davenport plus Carpenter Bob Allan from the Catskills New York. We also have special appearances by various people who just want to come out and see what it is like.
Q- Why are there no pellet cookers in the series?
It’s very simple to explain. The shows primary agenda for me as an exec producer is casting the cooks first and what they cook on second. It’s not like I am saying I don’t have a show unless there is a pellet cooker on it. In fact I have been keeping my eyes open and I want to show that type of BBQ on the show. I would like to say to everyone out there please get as many people to watch. We need to widen the show and include more demographics. I do have a goal to have a pellet cooker on the show. I would also like to have the debate of the pellet vs. other pits debate. There will ultimately be a pellet cooker on the show.
Pellet cookers are out there and they are winning and they are a legitimate part of BBQ.
Q- What was the pace of shooting the show:
As way of an explanation this show came together came at a breakneck pace. I have never worked on a project this fast. It’s very rare in TV that the planets line up as they did for this show.
When I sat in the Man vs. Meat pitch meeting it was only 2 days later when TLC said they wanted this. With Original Medias help 5 camera crews fanned out into America to go meet everybody you see on the show. Two were in Virginia, two in Texas, one in Georgia and one in California. All of it in 6 weeks.
Carolyn Wells brought me Harry Soo and Slap Yo Daddy. Carol and I have had a long friendship since the first show I did. I don’t think I am having a show until I tell Carolyn Wells. She is a very close friend and a very trusted friend and a real good eye about this world. She said John I don’t know if you are done but there is one piece of your puzzle I want to help you with. This was prior to them coming out on the front page of the Bullsheet. They have proven a bounty of scenes and a really inspiring struggle. To be Champs in California and then come into that circuit was a challenge. They come into it still working on their flavour profile still struggling and then they slowly get better and better.
Q-What are some Highlights you can share from the episodes (this is from Episode #2)
We have all of these KCBS cookers come into an MBN contest. Johnny Triggs tok me aside right away and said he wasn’t doing a dog and pony show. He did it though. Murphysboro is an extremely challenging contest. It is tough. Mr Triggs put up a little bit of a fuss in the cooks meeting about the tightness of the schedule. We did have somebody from that meeting who was a bit upset about the people who were new to the MBN who wanted changes to the schedule. One of those people (who was under the influence) confronted Mr. Triggs and it got a bit dicey. It happened on its own but we were lucky to be there to film it.
Q- Did you find since this is not scripted that you had enough interesting moments captured.
You have the comedy and drama built into these shows. When you are writing a script of the show you have to show the choices and the resolutions. Obstacles, choices and resolutions are part of any real drama or comedy show. As a competitive BBQ team I have had the disasters and the fighting with teammates and I have made mistakes. So they naturally occurred. There is a mistake made in Kansas. I was watching the rough cut of the first reel in Kansas and the great Tuffy Stone makes a mistake. I won’t go into more details. Things have naturally unfolded in the show.
It also helps to include a rookie (Paul Petersen) out of Texas. He has gotten a lot of glowing reviews at his steak house and decided with his minimal BBQ experience he could come in and teach these masters a lesson. He is a great chef. I have had a couple of meals at Rick’s Chophouse in McKinney Texas. He can really knock your socks off with a several course meal of steak and a great vegetable and wonderful dessert. He has learned (as Johnny Triggs told him) BBQ is not that. It really exercises a different set of muscles of cooking. We like seeing this happen. People at home may think it’s a simple thing. Thinking that may kick you in the butt.
Q-Unknown facts about the show. Are there any surprises?
John Markus is in the show for every episode.
During an early discussion with the executives with TLC there was a conversation about how to get the world of BBQ across to people who don’t know anything about it. There are so many subtleties to competition bbq as well as the art itself of cooking low and slow. TLC found a couple elements of the show a tad confusing and not properly explained. One of the execs during the conference call said we need somebody with the enthusiasm and the validity to narrate it. That’s when the name John Markus came up. They all agreed it was a good idea to have him explain. None of them knew that I was on the call with the executives.
Looking back from episode #6 we tried to give color and explanations on behaviours and strategies and dilemmas I provided this commentary. I am in every show. I help bring people into the tent and to be their BBQ Ambassador to the world. They were editing me in the show and they asked how would I like to be listed..Award Winning Competition Cook, Certified Judge, but what I really wanted them to list me is that I have received the order of the Magic Mop. They asked to leave that out since no one will know what it means. If we do enough of these shows I will make sure they know what the Order of the Magic Mop is. I also have the dream to show Ardie Davis to confer on some recipient the Order. I explained to them it’s like you are in England and you are knighted. They still want to wait to put it in the shows listing..
Additionally I would like to show is Remus Powers administering the judge’s oath. He is a figure that looms large in competition BBQ.
Q- Which competition was your favourite?
I am a huge fan of the American Royal. I cooked it for many years with the Big Bob Gibson Team. I love the Big Pig Jig in Vienna Georgia. It is truly an old world BBQ contest it brings you back in time. It is not mobbed with people. It is very charming and very traditional.
Truthfully this is going to sound like showbiz prostitution. I like them all. I like them all because when you show up at the contest and you get that tingle when you arrive. When our cameras and tents arrived it was equally exciting every time. They all hold surprises. The traditional ones I love but these new ones I love too. I really like the Murphysborough contest for its daunting challenge, its location and for Amy & Mike Mills. True BBQ Royalty. That in itself captures the spirit of BBQ. The Royal for the spectacle. Dover for its great location. I just liked them all.
Q-What were some challenges for the show-
One of the difficulties of this show is that there are fantastic elements that are not going to be shown. We go in with 150 hours of tape and have to cut it down to 44 minutes. We have to find 44 minutes of story for the show. Some of our cast are not in each show. There will shows where you will go “where is Jamie Geer?” Then there will be a show though of this gorgeous Jambo pit and builder. Then there are people that have shot for us that are unfortunately not going to make it into the show.
Q-Who does the editing for the show?
Brian Catalina co-executive producer (show runner) produced the first season of Deadliest Catch. He really has the credentials of this task. He has marshalled armies of video and audio crew to get the ballet of the shot. Brian is masterful and he is strapped to the wheel. We have teams of editors who he commands. They begin to sift through everything. Bryan and I give them story lines on index cards for them to hunt down and find moments that service the story line. They all come from the world of reality television. (Survivor, Deadliest catch etc) They are really well schooled in finding these moments.
I see things in a rough cut, to a fine cut to a locked in cut. I don’t get to see everything personally I get these great surprises when I see these videos. They are really skilled shooters and audio people to get it. I have become very impressed at the level of skill and resourcefulness that these reality crews have. They are up all night, with garbage bags covering their heads in bad weather continuing to get the shot…. really they are underpaid. They give us their all. I am going to make sure on the day it premieres they will be eating Gourmet BBQ even if I have to cook it myself. I am moved by their commitment to this.
Brian has gone from knowing nothing about this world to bringing a thermal carryon bag and taking home BBQ leftovers. Everyone is getting a true immersion to this world. They all love it. They can’t stop talking about it. Everybody wants to talk about how talented and funny (the pitmasters) they are and how great their food is. That makes me feel so good inside. That a world they knew nothing about 6 weeks ago they now live. I also know some of these people will be competing.
Q- Why do you think at this point BBQ becoming more popular?
I think with the past year and a half the economy and the challenges we all face – BBQ represents a return a visceral comfort and simplicity of our approach to things. It is humble food and it is honest food. It really lands on several levels with people. It is also something you can do with your hands. With all of this falling down around you it is one of the things that can bring you joy. It can be done without a great deal of expense or sacrifice. I think the timing is right. It brings people together.
Q- What does BBQ mean to you personally?
BBQ is the elevation of something simple and humble to greatness. It unites people. It’s community.
Originally I had thought to cut this interview way down to a much more manageable amount of words however the more I read what John has to say the more I wanted to include it all. I hope you agree.
Much thanks to Dustin Smith Director of Publicity TLC and to John Markus Executive Producer BBQ Pitmasters series for his generosity in doing this interview.