By Jake Camozzi
Let me start by saying that a barbecue nerd in Texas complaining about lack of barbecue authenticity on a reality TV contest is a little silly—it’s reality TV, not a documentary and I get that.
Let me continue by saying that the contestants on Top Chef are obviously an incredibly talented bunch, it seems like every season the participants come from more prestigious kitchens. In addition to that, I’m a Top Chef fan and have treated the show as appointment viewing for several seasons.
So they’re all brilliant, sure. But what they’re all clearly not, is pit-masters. Most of that sad, dried-out beef served during a recent episode looked like a very far cry from the barbecue Austinites enjoy on a pretty regular basis. I guess when you put otherwise talented people in extreme conditions, take away their sleep and then ask them to adequately interpret some very dogmatic regional specialties you get… what you got. And what you got was not good looking and, with the exception of Paul Qui’s winning dishes, it wasn’t barbecue. The first red flag occurred when a contestant excitedly stated “I love grilling!” She said this about barbecue. Barbecue ain’t grilling. Grilling is grilling. And barbecue is art, at least it should be.
Quality central Texas barbecue is a result of loving intuition between a pit master and their fire. It is cooking with hardwood smoke. It’s the sex and mystery that takes place in a wood-resined pit when an elemental force meats a big chunk of cow and makes sweet, sweet love to it. It’s not the result of sugary sauces, soda pop mops or whatever else the losing chefs tried to pull out of their toques. In the end I guess it’s obvious that the fine art of quality hill country barbecue is not something that can be learned overnight and, unfortunately, that’s exactly what the poor chef’s were expected to do.