After a year and a half, The American Barbecue Showdown is back on Netflix, rebranded as simply Barbecue Showdown.
Season one was great, and season two arrives at the start of summer and grilling season, rather than at the end.
And the new name and schedule are not its only changes.
On the show’s rural Georgia set, each chef still has their own tented barbecuing and prep area, though those look more well-organized. The cooking areas has been expanded to include “The Trench,” where they have all kinds of open-fire options.
Once again, contestants use various grilling and barbecuing techniques to cook not just slabs of raw beef and other proteins, but sides and accompaniements.
The best change, though, is the addition of new host Michelle Buteau, who replaces Floor is Lava host Rutledge Wood and actor Lyric Lewis.
Michelle Buteau’s narration as host of The Circle is funny and full of personality, but that’s done in post-production.
On Barbecue Showdown, she’s just as funny, and actually interacting with the contestants—and the judges, who she chats with about what they’re looking for and prompting them to explain things to the audience.
Her impromptu chats walking around the contestants, and having fun even with the time calls. “This is nice, yelling at people that aren’t my kids,” she says. At another point, she does a call and says, “Was that loud? It felt like it was loud.”
Unlike The Great British Baking Show’s increasingly painful host bits, none of this feels contrived, it just feels like her genuine reactions. “Ta-ta! That means you go,” she says at judging.
Michelle is not just here to help us barbecue dummies learn more, nor just for the jokes. “I’m a hugger,” she says, kneeling down in the sand next to one contestant who’s struggling. “You’re doing a great job.”
Judges Kevin Bludso and Melissa Cookston are both back, too, and they also show genuine concern for the contestants as they make questionable decisions or struggle with time.
They ask questions as they wander around, and then quietly chat with each other, sometimes just lamenting what’s happening: “Prayin’ is not a plan, honey,” Melissa says in one episode, and in another, “He’s screwed with that smoker.”
Melissa and Kevin are some of the best cooking show judges on television now for their direct, specific critiques and advice. And they’re also just funny in their own ways.
For the surf and turf challenge, Kevin says they need “the right texture inside and out,” making sure they’re “locking that moisture in” with their seafood because “I don’t want no rubbery-ass crab.”
Early in the season, Melissa says, “At the end of the day, I want to taste the fire.” She brings the fire as a judge, both with her direct critiques and refusal to take any bullshit excuses.
When one contestant’s side dish makes Melissa recoil with horror, the contestant blames her for eating the garnish: a Carolina Reaper chili pepper. “I didn’t grab a Carolina Reaper, I can assure you,” Melissa says. She tells another contestant: “20 Carolina Repers was about 19 too many. It was a towering inferno.”
The judging is great, but the editing needs work
The food is filmed in a way that frequently makes me salivate, whether I’m watching eggs frying, melted butter being basted, or juices dripping off of animal flesh—and I say that as a vegetarian. (I don’t object to the general idea of eating animals, but to the industry, and the way it treats animals and the effect it has on all of us.)
My only complaint with Barbecue Showdown is how scattered the editing can be. For the bulk of the episode, it jumps around, showing us food and cooking and interviews, sometimes only for a few seconds at a time—and I’m not even talking about the montages.
It also jumps from place to place: inside the barn, to The Trench, a close up on cutting, someone else’s face, the judges sitting nearby. It can be dizzying, and doesn’t help to appreciate what these chefs are actually doing.
There’s a lot that happens off-camera on any competition, but watching The Great British Bake-Off, I get a clearer sense of where someone is in the process, what’s making them struggle, and why something turned out the way it does.
The contestants—Cindy Hayter, Delilah Winder, Eduardo Gonzalez, Joey Victorian, John Boy Caddell, Michelle Lundstrom, Logan Sandoval, and Thyron Mathews—are again a diverse mix of grillers and pitmasters, with different strengths, approaches, and levels of experience.
As in season one, they’re encouraging and helpful. “Bro crush is startin’ up again,” Thyro says as Logan gives him advice on making sure his tortillas don’t stick to a grill.
While they all seem to have impressive resumes, in the first two episodes, there’s a surprising amount of raw meat served to the judges, and some clumsy mistakes.
There are only eight contestants, and also eight episodes, so even if you’re as bad at math as I am, you can figure out what will inevitably happen with one or more eliminations.
Since eight is such a low number, I wouldn’t mind a format where they all grilled each week, so we could see the different ways they approach these challenges.
As with season one of Barbecue Showdown, it’s just nice to spend time with these talented cooks, watching them work and have their food be appreciated by two exacting experts.
A strong, congenial competition that’s even more fun thanks to its new host. B+
What works for me:
- Michelle Buteau’s hosting
- Kevin Bludso and Melissa Cookston’s judging
- The challenges, which are simple but give the contestants room to show their skills
What could be better:
- The editing, which needs to do a better job of highlighting the work the contestants are doing