Author's note: I love moving images of food, people eating food, and people talking about food. But I hate commercials. Netflix Watch Instantly has a wealth of food-related shows, movies, and documentaries. Every week I'll share my currently streaming favorites in my TV/film column, "Watch (Food) Instantly" —Sam.
I've always been a barbecue fan, but being from central Connecticut, I didn't have my first encounter with smoked beef, pork, and chicken until my tween years. Before my first visit to Little Mark's Big BBQ, my idea of ribs was the fast casual abomination that is a rack of Chili's babybacks. Yet my first bites of some legit pulled pork and St. Louis-style ribs sucked me into a vortex of BBQ fixation that has continued to this day.
It was far from the best barbecue I've ever had, but it was my introduction to the cuisine. So when I saw BBQ Pitmasters on Netflix, my barbecue bone started tingling and I decided to test drive the pilot episode (if you're interested in the second one, Robbie Richter's got you covered).
As a TLC occupational reality show, the series will look very familiar to Discovery/History/TLC fans. These programs follow a handful of individuals as they make their living through a relatively interesting means—Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers are two examples. Pitmasters has the fortunate advantage of following competition BBQ-ers, who travel to different events every week, which lends itself to self-contained episodes quite well.
So what's the show like? In a word: fun. Populated by a colorful cast of six teams, the show offers a nice mix of big personalities and serious cooking that is quite a joy to watch...at least in small doses.
The barbecue itself doesn't lend all that much tension, but the food and people are fine entertainment, and it's comical to see teams scramble to hand in their styrofoam containers as if it's life or death.
Although several BBQ-ers get profiled, the standout pitmasters are Myron Mixon and Paul Petersen, the winningest and most defeated, respectively. Mixon, with his team Jack's Old South, looks like Kenny Rogers and cooks like a pro, having been named World Champion three times—and he won't let you forget it. Despite the hubris, Mixon prepping his barbecue, from butchering to injections to rubs, is a sight to behold and one of the show's highlights. If there's one thing to take away from Pitmasters, it's that barbecue is significantly more intricate than most know.
On the flipside of Mixon's prowess and success, there's Paul Petersen, a Texas chef/rookie BBQ-er who may be even cockier than his award-winning counterpart. Petersen works in restaurant kitchens, but decided to try his hand at the competition circuit. He talks plenty of crap, but his barbecue is as weak as his talk is aggressive.
The pilot episode follows a pretty standard formula: introduce the players, follow their preparation and see the results, all while introducing the viewer to the world of competition barbecue. Although the format works well, I found myself wishing the program were a bit tighter. I'm not sure if 22 minutes would be enough, but I thought the episode lagged about ten minutes too long. Additionally, I question the show's potential for extended watching.
While the seasons are short (6 episodes), how different can barbecue competitions ultimately be? After enjoying the first episode quite a bit, I broke into the second one out of curiosity. I found a handful of competitors from the first show again smoking ribs, pork, brisket chicken (with the addition of a whole hog). Sure, it was slightly different from the first episode, but it felt a bit too familiar.
Still, BBQ Pitmasters is a totally enjoyable show. I may not start watching religiously, but I can see myself throwing on an episode when I'm feeling the barbecue bug...or when I want to hear Myron Mixon speak. That dude is a riot.
BBQ Pitmasters Seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Netflix Instant Watch.