BBQ Pitmasters on TLC

As some of you may know, the TLC network will begin airing the first episode of their new eight-week docu-series, BBQ Pitmasters, December 3rd (10 PM / 9 PM central). According to the press release, the series will be "...taking viewers into the high-stakes world of competitive barbecue. Following some of the biggest names on the circuit, each episode travels to a different competition and show viewers what it takes to win big in BBQ."
"The men and women featured are part chef, part athlete, and part five-star general. They not only talk a big game, but walk it every step of the way: with grease on their hands, sweat on their brows, and meat on their minds from sun-up to sundown."
The new series has certainly piqued the interest of many competitive BBQ cooks, this one included. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to ask the Executive Producer, John Markus, a few questions about the new series. In addition to this series, he also produced "The All-Star BBQ Showdown" and "Barbecue Championship Series" in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Here are the questions that I posed to Mr. Markus.

Me: What was the inspiration to create the BBQ Pitmasters series, and what is the intended audience?

JM: Back in 2000, I was fortunate enough to meet legendary Paul Kirk, The Baron of Barbecue out of Kansas City, who agreed to let me cook on his team. At the time, all I knew was that I wanted to study the methods of making delicious brisket and pulled pork. I had no idea that competition bbq, a rich and varied subculture, existed. On the circuit competing, I met some of the legendary pitmasters, who not only shared cooking secrets, but also told me their personal histories, as each described their path to barbecue. One of them, three time world champion Myron Mixon, a true bbq legacy, had such a fascinating personal story that I just completed a documentary film about his family. Myron competes thirty six weekends a year, and that led to the idea of shooting a series about full time competition 'Q'r's-- a show that would accurately convey the rigors of the road and the challenges of this demanding lifestyle. TLC recognized the potential of the series and ordered BBQ Pitmasters. We hope the show appeals to men AND women interested in learning this truly American culinary art and intrigued by the life of competition barbecue.

Me: How is the BBQ Pitmasters series different from the other competitive barbecue series that have aired on other networks?

JM: BBQ Pitmasters shows in detail all the demands of cooking in competitions: the extreme weather, the allnighters, the hardships and unpredictabilities of the road. This show is also meant for the serious student of this food. After watching a few episodes, a viewer will actually know how to cook award winning 'Q. In addition, viewers will get to know these characters up close and personal. Their strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, their humor. It is the first genuinely in depth look at this world.

Me: How did you select the competition teams that appear in the series?

JM: The pitmasters selected to appear on the series are true champions in the field. They have won dozens of Grand Championships and collectively earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money. They are also comfortable with our cameras trailing them day and night for weeks at a time. We have all become one large family.

Me: Were all of the teams filmed at actual competitions, or are there also staged appearances?

JM: Of the eight episodes produced so far, seven were filmed at actual contests, where our pitmasters competed alongside each other and scores of teams from all across the country. Shooting at actual contests lends each episode a genuine reality, with our cast members challenged by real rules and deadlines. We want viewers to feel what these contests are actually like, the highs and lows of this demanding pursuit. We also created one contest in West Texas: The Johnny Trigg Shootout. There, it was just our seven cooks chasing several thousand in cash, but then we threw them a real curve. We selected a few tough master judges and filmed their judging session. Then, we encouraged these judges to speak freely about the entries after they scored them. Finally, we screened the tape of that session to our cast and filmed them watching. You can only imagine how raucous that viewing got!

Me: Do you envision the series continuing in the future, or is this a one-time project?

JM: I can imagine BBQ Pitmasters continuing for at least a hundred episodes. We have just scratched the surface of this complex world, and there are so many fascinating, funny folk involved in the sport. And it's not just the competition aspect. The skills and methods involved in turning out the perfect bite of smoked brisket or ribs makes for great television. I don't ever see us running out of fresh material.

I thank Mr. Markus and Dustin Smith, Director of Publicity at TLC, for their assistance with this post. It's great to have such an opportunity. I am really looking forward to this new series.

Episode Reviews/Comments:

Episode 1

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