Begins – Tonight May 8 Food Network USA

Tuesday May 17 Food Network CANADA

I was lucky to communicate with a few folks and talk to them about their experiences. Ill post more about Best in Smoke later this week.

The Host & Judges

Host – Bryan Caswell

Judges – Tim Love, Amy Mills Tunnicliffe, Mitchell Davis

Amy Mills – Tunnicliffe-Cookbook Author Peace Love & BBQ, On Cue Consulting & 17th Street BBQ


Amy is a friend of mine so I gave her a call to talk about her experience with Best In Smoke.

What was your overall experience with the show?

Overall  the experience was fabulous !  Its BBQ but its about a much more broad definition. Meat Smoke & Fire. A lot like a BBQ top chef. There are many elimination Challenges It was really exciting. Wonderful production crew. The first night I saw the statue of liberty lit up and it was a magical moment for me being in New York.

What was it like to be a judge? What were the challenges like? Did you have a favorite challenge?

I knew most of the contestants and I was the only judge who knew about real BBQ. Absolutely with my family background I believe I had the best grasp about true BBQ. The challenges were  incredibly gruelling for the contestants. They had extreme weather to deal with. As judges we never got more than 4 hours of night. There were some days where multiples things happened and we were running all over the city. You felt very sequestered away from the world. I don’t think I could really choose a favorite challenge.

What did you think of the contestants?

I had a tremendous amount of respect for all the contestants. I was just cheering all these folks I hold in high regard. It was a big deal for all of them to be chosen. They cast a wide net for the talent. Each one of them was so talented. It was crushing to them go home.  The most challenging part of all of this was the fact that someone had to go home. That was hard to see . Giving feedback face to face was very difficult.

How do you think this show will differentiate itself from BBQ Pitmasters?

I think that this show does something different from BBQ Pitmasters as the viewer will get to form a relationship with the same contestants. Then the viewer can cheer for those people.

Any new projects coming up?

I am working on a completely new book for next spring 2012 on Mike Mills business & lifestyle pears of wisdom & philosophies called  Praise the Lard. Plus I am already working on a  restaurant cookbook  in the future. Also we have the 24th annual Praise the Lard contest coming up

September 24th annual Praise the lard Contest full on judges and half full on teams.


Mitchell Davis is the Vice President of the James Beard Foundation. He received his Ph.D. From NYU’s Department of Food Studies in 2009, and a Bachelors of Science from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in 1991. His academic research focuses on restaurants, restaurant reviews, and taste. Davis has also written four cookbooks, the most recent being Kitchen Sense (Clarkson Potter, 2006). His consumer articles appear regularly in GQ, The Art of Eating, and Gastronomica. He is also a contributor to Gastropolis, The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, and Scribner’s Encyclopedia of Food and Culture.

What was your overall experience with the show?

It was a great experience. Grueling for us judges, and we didn’t even have to do half the work of the contestants! It was a tough schedule, but great to see talented people working at the top of their game. Only drawback was that everyone couldn’t win!

Did you have any personal challenges as a judge?

The filming scheduling was tough. Up at 5 am, days ending at midnight. But barbecue takes time and so the contestants all needed as much time as they could get. For me the most difficult thing was judging so many different styles of bbq against each other. And also trying to take into consideration the serious constrictions of the parameters of the challenges. It was tough to do what these folks were asked to do in the time given. So to try to set out what we knew from the process and just judge what was on the plate wasn’t easy, but I think the judges all felt that in the end we did what we were asked and the results reflected the experience of the eating.

Out of the 4 segments Childs Play, Best Bite, Vendor Wars and Triple Play which was your favorite?

I liked the Vendor Wars. I think feeding bbq to a large group of hungry people in a city park is a very real type of experience and I liked having so many people give their opinions with their votes. And it was great to see so many people so excited by barbecue here in the Big Apple. But each of the challenges was interesting from a barbecuing perspective, a cooking perspective, and a logistics perspective. Being able to barbecue well wasn’t enough to win. You needed to be creative, have some strong culinary skills, and strategize properly.

What did you think of the contestants and their various culinary backgrounds?

They were very diverse, with different perspectives, and that really showed in their food. I think that given the structure of the challenges and the background of us judges, those competitors with more restaurant/kitchen experience had a slight advantage to those with exclusive bbq experience….some real kitchen skill was necessary to win, I think. That is not true on a competitive bbq circuit, so our results might have been different from hardcore bbq judges. Still, given the challenges and the contestants, everyone did an amazing job.

Why do you like BBQ?

I just think bbq is one of the perfect foods. It represents tremendous skill of handling a smoker to get the perfect combination of texture, complexity of flavor, and deliciousness. It’s a real collaboration of man (or woman) and technology and I am impressed by anyone who can master it. There’s a craft to bbq that I really appreciate, even more so now that I’ve been a judge on Best in Smoke I think carnivores have a primal reaction of satisfaction to eating a perfectly barbecued piece of meat. Fall off the bone tender, deliciously intricate sauce, even the sides contribute to make an incredibly satisfying whole eating experience.

What is your favorite BBQ food to eat?

Hmn. Tough. I love perfect, fall-off-the-bone ribs, saucy pulled pork, fall-apart fatty brisket. I guess my favorite bbq food to eat is the one that is perfectly cooked. It can be chicken, it can be pork butt, ribs, brisket, it just has to be properly cooked.

Why do think at this time – BBQ is becoming so popular?

I think it’s a reaction to some of the great, creative things going on in other food trends. The most creative, modernist chefs have a lot to contribute to the conversation about food. But the simple, satisfying pleasure of eating barbecue is hard to beat. I also think that bbq is one of the most American of foods, restaurants, etc., and as I think we come into our own as a culinary culture, we are proud of our unique contributions as much as we are of the talent of our chefs who cook Italian, French, Japanese, and other foods. BBQ is ours and we do it better than anyone, and people are excited to eat it. I also think there’s been a return  of focus to meat as a protein and bbq is all about the meat.

The James Beard house hosted IQUE BBQ for one of their esteemed dinners- what did you like most about their approach to food?

Well, Chris Lilly has cooked at the Beard House, too. Several times. I like that they are traditionalists and that they focus on technique. Low and slow is like a mantra, and the bbq they produce shows their commitment to the craftmanship of bbq.

I would just like to add that one of the things I think was so important about James Beard, perhaps the reason he was deemed Dean of American cookery, and something that we try to maintain as his legacy at the James Beard Foundation, is that good food, education, and the pursuit of quality spans the entire culinary spectrum, from the finest restaurant, to the simplest bbq shack. Beard was an equal opportunity eater and we showcase all sorts of great food in America at the James Beard Foundation. People can find out more about our events and about how to join at

The Competitors:

Brad Orrison  The Shed, Matt Lang,  Sara Horowitz, Dave Anderson Famous Dave’s , Chris Lilly Big Bob Gibson’s, Chris Hart I QUE,


Chris Lilly


Chris Lilly, husband and father of three children, is one of America’s best-known barbecue pitmasters.

Lilly emerged on the barbecue scene in 1992 when he began working for the world famous Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q restaurant in Decatur, Ala. Recognized by The Wall Street Journal as having the best pork barbecue in the country and named the “Best Barbecue Restaurant in Alabama” by the Birmingham News, Lilly is now vice president of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q.

Lilly also is head chef of the award-winning Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q Competition Cooking Team, which has amassed 10 World BBQ Championships and six world titles at “Memphis in May” and the American Royal International Cook-Off and BBQ Sauce Competition. His first cookbook, “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint” was published in 2009 by Clarkson Potter.

Widely recognized as one of the top pitmasters in his field, Lilly has been a guest chef for six years running at the Food Network’s South Beach Wine and Food Festival, has served as an honorary chef at the James Beard Foundation and the American Institute of Wine and Food, and was a presenter at the Low-Country and Caribbean Food Conference at Johnson and Wales University.

Lilly has appeared on “The Today Show,” “Live with Regis and Kelly” and “The Martha Stewart Show” as well as numerous Food Network programs, including “Cooking Live with Sara Moulton” and “Fire in the Soul – The Barbecue Movie,” and local television stations nationwide. Lilly has been featured in Food and Wine, The New York Times, Relish, Southern Living, Travel and Leisure, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

In addition to his work at the restaurant and on the competition barbecue circuit, Lilly also lends his expertise to Kingsford® Charcoal as a national spokesperson, to The Greenbrier® resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. as a teacher of courses on barbecue mastery, and to the Seghesio Family Vineyards, located in Healdsburg, Calif., as a guest chef. In the summer of 2009 and 2010, Lilly was named the Official Tour Pitmaster of the Keith Urban’s summer tour through his work with tour sponsors, the makers of KC Masterpiece© barbecue sauces and Kingsford© charcoal.


What was your overall experience on the show Best in Smoke?

It was really a fun experience but challenging. They really pulled out all the stops as for testing our skills and endurance. Going in I thought it was going to be a typical BBQ contest. It turned in to something altogether different. Anyone who went through the experience has to appreciate it.

What equipment was used in the show by your team?

Jedmasters – backyard 3 rack rotisseries 2 komodo ceramic cookers just the standard with two levels of racks. For versatility I could cook anything short of a whole hog. IF they had asked me I would have figured out how to fit it in the baby Jed.  I used the original Kingsford and competition Kingsford charcoal. Depending on the challenge I picked whichever charcoal was used.

Did you know your fellow Competitors?

Matt Lang – knew everyone except him. Quickly got to know him. Both of the guys were chefs. With the type of contest in turned out to be – not only the skills around the grill were helpful – being a chef I think helped. Good to have that as well. Who you picked to come with you on the show… there is great strategy in that as well.

Who was on your team?

Ken Hess – He has been at Big Bob Gibson’s working with me a year and a half. Mention a recipe and I know he has got under control. I had complete confidence in him. I had worked with him for so long – it worked well.

Would you do the show again having gone through the experience?

Given the opportunity- I would absolutely do it again. Going through what we did made me a better cook. I would have probably my workout routine before I went to the show. I would have made more trips to the gym the months before the show.

Are you looking forward to watching Best of Smoke on TV?

I can only hope they make me look good. I am completely proud of what we put out and the dishes we prepared excited to see how it comes out from the editing.

What was the best part of doing the show for you?

It was the competitors – they set us up to be rivals however it ended up more like cooking with friends and I had a good time doing it.

What was the toughest part of the show for you?

It would have to be during the elimination.  Tough being in a position to be eliminated and tough to see your friends in a position to be eliminated.

Why is BBQ becoming so popular on TV?

Unlike other food shows – BBQ is something everyone can do in their backyard and be good at. The food shows on air currently can be intimidating by the cheffiness in the shows and culinary skills required for the food shows.

What do you foresee happening to BBQ in the future?

BBQ used to be very specific. Pork shoulder brisket ribs chicken, and done the same low and slow on indirect heat outdoors using charcoal and wood. Now I see flavor fusion mixing techniques that use both high temperature and low temperature.  There are great ideas coming into BBQ – a mixture of old fashioned southern style BBQ and techniques born from chefs with high training.  Most restaurants you go in you see BBQ – it is also coming into white table cloth menus. IT shows the interest in BBQ. I think BBQ is getting more popular because more people are accpeting it as a Southern style cooking on the side of the road but also as an item in a white table cloth restaurant.

What is your take on the death of many side of the road BBQ joints – the multi generational BBQ locations that are closing ?

Some of the guys that need to be put on a pedestal are the generation after generation – country joints and rural South people.  When you think of  of BBQ -they are who they should be thinking of vs the TV time folks or winners of BBQ contests.  I believe a lack of understanding about real BBQ is one of the only down falls of BBQ being popular on TV.

What up for you next?

Excited that Big Bob Gibson’s will be on The BEST thing I ever ATE for our turkey. Its really cool for us as they usually cover the pork and our white sauce.

Memphis in May is where we will be competing next weekend. We will be doing whole shoulder. Should be lots of fun.

June 4th Kansas City catering an event for Nascar – for qualifying day Friday cooking for teams drivers and Nascar its the 3rd event I have done for them. Nascar is addicting. Never was a fan before. Now I am.

Considering doing another book. I have been stockpiling recipes and its time.

Big Apple Block party – June 11th & 12th We will be making  430 whole butts bone in 8lbs per , service from 11am till 6pm . Come early  there are line ups 1 hr before service. We serve until we run out and we always run out.

Then I would like to do a KCBS event in the next few months.







The six competitors’ first challenge is to create their single best bite of barbecue. They can smoke up whatever they want, but the judges will only take one single bite. In the next round, the competitors find out that they have another chance to stay in the game. They have to cook cocktail party fare for an art gallery show in Chelsea. One pitmaster is eliminated at the end of the show


The remaining five competitors are thrown when they are told that, instead of cooking up traditional ribs or brisket, they have to grill or smoke a salad and dessert for the judges. In the next round, the pitmasters have to cook up kid-friendly barbecue for a child’s birthday party without using old stand-bys like hamburgers and hot dogs. But the competitors better make the kids happy, because the kids’ favorite is safe from elimination. Everyone else is at risk of going home. One pitmaster is eliminated at the end of the show


The final four pitmasters have to team up in order to create vending cart food that they have to sell at Battery Park. The team that sells the most wins a ticket to the finale, and a seat at the judging table. The losing team must face off against each other in a sudden death cook off. One pitmasters is eliminated at the end of the show.


The finale. In the dark hours before dawn, the three remaining pitmasters find out that they have a marathon day of barbecue ahead. First, the competitors have to cook up and deliver a pre-game ballpark snack for season ticket holders at Yankee Stadium. Then, they have to cook up healthy barbecue for the cast of the musical, Mama Mia, and serve it on Broadway. Finally, they’ve got to deliver late night bar food for a crowd of Brooklyn bar-hopping hipsters. The winner earns the title of Best in Smoke and fifty thousand dollars

US Schedule:

Tune In:
  • May 08, 201110:00 PM ET/PT
  • May 09, 20111:00 AM ET/PT
  • May 11, 20119:00 PM ET/PT