My Thoughts on Season 4 of BBQ Pitmasters

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It’s been a few weeks since the finale for BBQ Pitmasters finally aired, and I’m just now putting my thoughts down to virtual paper. Call me a slacker, call me whatever you’d like… better late than never for doing this, I suppose.  I’ll quickly recap what happened in the finale, and then I’ll wrap up with a few thoughts about what I liked and disliked about Season 4.

Finale Recap

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The season finale was filmed in Tryon, NC at the Blue Ridge BBQ & Music Festival the weekend of June 14-15, 2013.  The teams who emerged from the semi-final rounds to compete in the finals are as follows:

Was it possible to top the crazy assortment of out-of-left-field meats that were given in the semi-final rounds (BBQ meatloaf, venison tenderloin, buffalo short ribs)?  Only one thing – whole hog. 

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That’s exactly what the contestants were given: 20 hours to cook a whole hog in tact.  The contestants were asked to pay attention to five areas: ham, loin, shoulder, belly, and jowl.  However, only three of the five areas would be asked for during judging, and the contestants would not know which three parts would be asked for until it was time to be judged. 

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In a deviation from previous episodes, judging would take place in-person, and the others would not watch the judging process.  Also to further level the playing field, the teams were given a Lang 84 reverse-flow smoker and wood from Baxter’s Original Premium Smoking Wood.  This “leveling of the playing field” appeared to put Lynnae at an advantage (since the cooker that she and her partner Corree used this season was a Lang) while putting David at a disadvantage (since he primarily uses a pellet cooker).

The show then showed the prep process for each of the teams in great detail.  First up was the trimming process.  All of the teams cut the hog along the spine to butterfly the hog and took similar steps to expose more shoulder and ham meat.  However, Rod and Lynnae trimmed out the spare ribs to allow easier access to the loin meat while David left the ribs on the hog.  Injections and seasonings came up next, with each team getting segments on the injection process and the seasoning process.  One interesting tactic that the teams employed was using meat shields to help prevent the loins from drying out.  Lynnae used pork butts, David used a brisket (by sitting the hog on top of the brisket along the spine), and Rod used a combination of bacon, butter, and sausage. 

The finale would not be a fitting finale without a twist, and this was no exception.  The cooks were brought front and center during the hog prep process and were given their challenge – the Kingsford One-Bite Challenge.  For this challenge (which had its origins from the Kingsford Invitational), the contestants were each given 3 racks of spare ribs and asked to turn in one rib per judge in .  The judges would judge the rib based on a single bite, and the winner of this challenge would be able to choose the order of whole hog presentation.  As expected, the one-bite challenge was really close, with Lynnae winning the one-bite challenge and the right to determine the turn-in order.

With the one-bite challenge settled, the teams turned their attention back to the hog.  David put his hog on during the one-bite challenge (with about 2-3 hours left in the challenge).  Rod put his hog on the cooker at the 7 hour mark, while Lynnae put her hog on at the 9 hour mark.  After a cut scene showing the teams tending the fire and working on the hog during the night, the show jumps to the 17 hour mark and shows the teams continuing to stoke the fire and, in Rod’s case, re-wrapping and re-injecting the hog as the teams make final adjustments to their hog entries in preparation for judging. 

The order of presentation was announced by Lynnae and was as follows:

  1. Sugar’s Championship Barbecue
  2. Pellet Envy
  3. Butcher BBQ

Out of the five different areas, the contestants were asked to present the belly, shoulder, and loin.  Feedback from the judges were both praising and critical for all the teams – Lynnae received high praise for overall flavors but some critiques on moisture in the loin and tenderness in the shoulder, Rod received some criticism for tenderness in the shoulder but praise on the loin, and David was questioned about his choice of not turning in any bark with his shoulder entry but received accolades on the loin submission.  This was destined to be a photo finish.  Ultimately, Rod Gray edged out Lynnae Oxley (2nd) and David Bouska (3rd) to win the $50,000 grand prize, a spot in the Kingsford Invitational, and the title of Kingsford BBQ Pitmaster.

Thoughts About the Episode

This was the perfect way to end the season, and it was fitting that the meat of choice was whole hog with the finale being in North Carolina.  In one word: intense!  From the outset, the tone was set for this episode to be non-stop and dramatic.  It was definitely worthy of a 2-hour finale.  Throughout the episode, there weren’t any clues or cues as to who would be the winner. 

What I Liked About Season 4

I thought this season brought a lot of positives to the table.  These are my top 3 things I enjoyed seeing:

  • Having three rounds in this tournament.
  • Having some curveball meats in the semi-final rounds.
  • Most of the judge #3 choices throughout the season (Melissa being the permanent 3rd judge is an excellent choice).

What Would I Change?

With positives always come negatives (or criticisms, or suggestions, or however you want to phrase it).  Here are my two things that I think could be different for next season (I tried to think of 3, but I just couldn’t):

  • No one knows what the final scores are.  Publish the final scores (and, in fact, let the audience know the scoring system, scoring weights, etc.).
  • I believe this season went as far west as Oklahoma.  It’d be nice to see some contests in states further west play host to episode filmings.

My Thank You’s

I’ve got a list of people I want to thank for this blog series…

  • First off, a huge thanks to Shane Draper of Draper’s BBQ for brainstorming the drinking game idea with me and goading me to publish it on my blog.
  • A huge thank you goes out to Jessica Nicola, Sr. Director of Communications for Destination America, for all her help in allowing me to get recaps published in a timely manner.
  • To Glenn Gross of Fat Jack’s BBQ and his son Kevin, thank you for taking time to sit down and chat with me about what it was like being on the show when I was in Philadelphia for work.
  • A thank you goes out to Leslie Roark Scott of Ubon’s for her write-up on what it was like being on the show.
  • A huge amount of gratitude goes out to Lynnae Oxley of Sugar’s Championship Barbecue.  I’ve had many an opportunity to talk with her about her experiences on the show, and it’s been nothing but great conversations!
  • To all the teams that I’ve talked to that were on the show, thank you! 
  • And finally, a huge thank you goes out to all of you for reading!!

And on one last note, I will be at the American Royal this coming weekend as a box runner for Sugar’s.  Find me and say hello – I’d love to meet ya!

  • http://www.nibblemethis.com Chris

    Great wrap up, Wayne! I probably enjoyed this season more than any since Season 1.