It’s back! This past Saturday brought us the season premier of season 5 of BBQ Pitmasters. Read below to catch a recap of the opening episode along with some of my thoughts so far. Plus for those playing along with the BBQ Pitmasters Drinking Game, there will be a drink count.
(NOTE: Spoilers are below. If you have not watched the episode and do not want to find out the results, stop reading now.)
“Sweet Georgia Ham” opens up with the familiar refrain of pitmasters cooking various meats. The first immediate change people notice is that there’s a new judge in the third judge’s seat — Moe Cason of Ponderosa Barbecue. People familiar with the previous season will recognize two of the teams on this episode, while a newcomer attempts to upstage everyone The contestants for this episode are:
- Rescue Smokers — Sycamore, GA (pitmaster is Robby Royal)
- The Rolling Grill — Atlanta, GA (pitmaster is Eric Thomas)
- Heavenly Hawgs — Perry, GA (pitmaster is John A. Ley, Jr.)
For this episode, contestants were given 10 hours to cook and turn in fresh bone-in ham and whole salmon. Emphasis throughout the episode was placed on traditional Georgia BBQ flavors (which apparently means a vinegar component). The scramble ensues as the clock starts. The teams fire up their pits and start prep work on the ham. Rescue Smokers cooks on two insulated gravity feed vertical smokers (I presume they’re Stumps), The Rolling Grill is cooking on two reverse flow offset smokers (both Langs, I assume), and Heavenly Hawgs uses one of each for this episode.
Fans of last season will recognize the format of the show:
- Highlights of the meat prep process (injection / seasoning) for the “big meat”
- Quick bios of each team
- Highlights of the prep process for the smaller meat
- Turn-in box prep for each of the entries
- Judging and the view from “in the pit”
- Winner reveal
What makes this show interesting is the comparison / contrasting of cooking styles and strategies used by each of the contestants. While Eric and Robby both utilized vinegar as a flavor profile component, John omitted vinegar completely. Robby and Eric both cooked salmon filets while John ended up cooking steaks (after the disastrous results of an attempt to filet one of the fish). For Robby’s salmon entry, he utilized a “dry brine” technique (salt & brown sugar) on the filets to draw out some moisture prior to seasoning and cooking.
The episode was mostly free of equipment malfunctions with the exception of one incident — Eric had difficulty getting his smoker back up to temp after wrapping the hams (fixed by opening a mistakenly closed damper). After a fairly non-dramatic cook, the teams turned in their entries and went back to the pit to watch the judging process.
After the judging of the salmon entries (which was first), the teams still appeared to all be within reach of winning. The judges had both positive and critical comments for all of the teams during this segment. Ultimately it came down to the ham turn-ins. While Eric was praised for the flavor in his ham, he was ultimately doomed by a bone that made it into the turn-in box as well as an inedible piece of fat. And while John received positive comments about his entries, all of the judges noted that it was not the traditional Georgia BBQ flavor that they were all expecting. These, combined with overall positive feedback on Robby’s ham entry (which included five different components of the ham), propelled Rescue Smokers to the winner’s spot on this episode. Heavenly Hawgs came in second, with The Rolling Grill finishing in third.
My Thoughts, Plus a Drink Count
For those of you who were looking for something radically different for Season 5, you’ll be disappointed. BBQ Pitmasters retains the overall formula used throughout last season. But there were definitely a few changes…
- The most obvious change — Moe Cason as the third judge.
- There is a new meat supplier for this season — Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions.
- All of the episodes were filmed in a single location instead of at local BBQ cook-offs.
- Contestants are appearing to get minor curveballs thrown at them in the first episode. This could make for more interesting semi-final and final rounds.
All in all, not a bad opening to the season. And for those keeping a drink count with me, I ended up with 17 drinks, mostly through mentions of injections and trash talking between Myron and Tuffy.
There were a couple of things I noticed about this episode that I failed to get down in the first publication of this blog post. Here they are:
- Georgia-style salmon? That’s a new one for me… I guess I really don’t know what lurks up in the waters of the north Georgia mountains…
- To the person who decided to ax the contestants saying “That’s me” every time in the pit… you deserve a raise!
If you’re keeping track at home, you can download a printable version of the BBQ Pitmasters bracket here. What did you think of the opening episode?