One of Food Network’s fiery shows of the summer, BBQ Brawl, premieres June 14, 2021 featuring North Texas pitmaster Brendan Lamb.
Lamb is the owner of Smiley’s Craft Barbecue, which opened in 2018 in Roanoke. He is one of two Texans among the 12 contestants on the show: There’s also Ara Malekian, former executive chef for Wolfgang Puck and current pitmaster at Harlem Road Texas BBQ in Richmond, Texas, west of Houston. (In a list of the top 25 new barbecue joints by Texas Monthly in 2019, writer Daniel Vaughn called Malekian “the Indiana Jones of Texas barbecue” — and we’re intrigued to see him in action on BBQ Brawl.)
It’s BBQ Brawl’s second season, and Food Network has juiced up the show with more contestants than the first season, and a third celebrity chef team captain. This time, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon and new addition Eddie Jackson will mentor the 12 contestants, who are vying for a serious prize: their own show on Discovery+.
That was the big allure for Lamb, who spent years in front of and behind the camera.
“I spent nearly 10 years in LA doing entertainment and then I went to Austin to do barbecue,” he says. “My long-term goal is to merge to the two together.”
His ideal show would allow him to show off Central Texas barbecue while also learning about other smoked-meat styles across the globe: in Belize, Egypt, Australia and Russia.
At Smiley’s, Lamb’s top sellers are pork belly burnt ends, sausage (which changes weekly) and brisket rubbed with salt and pepper. That simple Central Texas style will likely set him apart from some of the other BBQ Brawl contestants who were brought on the show because of their success at barbecue competitions. In competition barbecue, pitmasters tend to use a dozen or more ingredients in a single dish to enhance flavor.
“Central Texas is a lot more simple: Let the meat shine through,” Lamb says. “That animal was alive, and you’ve got to respect it.”
Over 10 episodes, the three celebrity chefs and their teams will cook for judges Rodney Scott (a James Beard award winner who runs Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ), Brooke Williamson (Top Chef season 14 winner) and Carson Kressley (of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy).
“It was really cool to be around them, and for them to show respect to me,” Lamb says of the team captains and celebrity judges. “It gave me a boost of confidence, that they were asking me questions on how I was doing things.”
Each week, the weakest pitmaster on the losing team will be sent home.
Lamb couldn’t say more about whether the judges enjoyed his food. But would he do it all over again, if asked?
“100%,” he says.
BBQ Brawl starts with a 90-minute premiere at 8 p.m. June 14, 2021 on Food Network. The show will air Monday nights until the two-episode finale on Aug. 9, 2021.
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