Best In Smoke

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Famous Dave Anderson’s Behind The Scenes Inside Secrets of Best In Smoke… Most Controversial Show On The Food Network including bullet proof vests and bomb sniffing dogs! WOW! What an incredible experience…Sunday’s last episode of the Food Network’s Best In Smoke for $50,0…00 won by Matt Lang in a tight competition between the 3 top finishers in a barbecue showdown! I don’t think the Food Network has ever had a more controversial finish on one of their TV challenges… all you have to do is go to the facebook page of Best In Smoke and read the fans reaction to the judging! …proving American’s are passionate about their barbecue!

Over 50 years ago, when I first started to learn how to make a barbeque ribs from watching my dad as a rib loving 10 year old kid, I never thought I would end up on national barbeque TV show. To this day, I remember my dad eagerly anticipating as he saved up pennies, nickels, and dimes before he could go down to the southside of Chicago to black-owned store front bbq joints to bring home real pit smoked ribs. Every once in a while, my dad who was an electrician would bring home buckets of scrap copper wire and he would sit all night stripping wire and then on Saturday morning he would take this copper wire down to the scrap yard and then we knew we were going to Eddie’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q in Logan Square in Chicago. My dad, Jimmie is from the southern eastern tip of Oklahoma where Choctaw Nation is located, and where barbeque is almost a religion and his craving for southern food were non-negotiable to my dad. I can even to this day still picture him bringing home our first barbecue grill and from that moment on…how good everything tasted with that smokey charcoal flavor. That first charcoal grill in our family’s backyard became the game changer for the rest of my life.

Watching The Final Episode from The Original Famous Daves…There couldn’t be a better place to watch the final episode of Best In Smoke than from the Original Famous Dave’s on beautiful Round Lake in Hayward, Wisconsin where it all started. The joint was packed elbows to elbows and butts to butts… and I can’t believe how everyone showed up to cheer me on for this final episode to see who won the $50,000. This was the first time that I had a chance to watch the final judging and see just how close I actually came to winning! Imagine America’s Rib King losing to tofu!

Torturous Heat, Sweltering Humidity, Long Hours, and Cooking for 100 people!…Best In Smoke was filmed last August in what they say is the hottest unbearable weather in New York City. The temperatures were soaring to around 98˚ and the humidity was even worse…it seemed like we were in a hot steam bath turned on high. Having to work in front of the smokers and grills even made the heat even more unbearable! To top this off we were all like zombies. I had a late night head-to-head sudden death competition against Brad Orrison but by time I had gotten back from Liberty Park to NYC where our hotel was it was already past midnight and then the last day’s competition… we had to be downstairs in the lobby by 4 AM. It would turn out that Charlie and I would have to cook three different challenges that day, prep all the food, and then basically I would have to travel, set up, and cater to feed a total of 100 people. For me that was 3 trips from New Jersey’s Liberty Park where our smokers where set up, cross the NYC bridges in bumper-to-bumper traffic to set up, serve 35 people each challenge, and then pack up and haul everything back to Liberty Park to get ready for my next challenge.

On My Last Leg…By now we have been on the set almost 11 days. And on the first day was when Charlie and I were putting up the big smoke flue on my smoker when suddenly the flue was about to nose dive and I saved it but I also ended up falling off my ladder. I think everyone can see now on this final day just how tough this fall had taken it’s toll on me… considering I was standing up with intense pain almost 18 hours a day during these competitions. Later the doctors told me they were astonished that I could even walk. I ended up with 20 huge staples that looked like the ones construction workers use and six screws! I never complained and never took a pain pill because I didn’t want the Food Network to send me home because of a bum leg but I have to admit on the last day of filming which ended up to be a 20 hour day my knee and my ankle were hurting so bad I could hardly walk.

Getting Warned By The Food Network About The Last Day’s Challenge!
The night before we were warned by the staff this final competition was going to be the hardest day and the longest day. They said that the weather reports indicated it was going to be intensely hot and that we need to be mentally prepared for a 20 hour day. In fact, two of the producers actually came and talked with me personally about whether or not I was physically able to stand for 20 hours and they wanted to see if I was OK to compete. I told them there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that I couldn’t compete… I for sure wasn’t going to quit… and certainly it wasn’t going to be my intention of going home because of a bum leg!

My Pig Hats Were The Hit of the Show!…For the ten long days that we have been competing, enduring the hot sun, fighting the time clock, and watching team mates having to pack up and go home in the middle of the night was stressful. What no one was able to see on the show was that once a competitor was kicked off the show, they had to immediately pack up and be off the set by the next morning! So to say that everyone was walking around on pins and needles the last days is really understating the exhaustion and pain everyone was feeling by now. On the last day, I said to myself… “I’m going to have fun! Barbeque is all about having fun and everyone is too serious about this $50,000. I made up my mind that Win, Lose, or Draw… I was going to have fun and all the folks in barbeque land would appreciate the pigs on my head…its what we do!

Folks when you can walk around with a stuffed pig on your head then you can honestly say that having fun is more important than what people are going to say about you! I am glad I didn’t let my fears of wearing a pig on my head keep from doing so because the pig hats were a huge hit with my fans! I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and told me they loved the pig on my head while I was serving up my tasty barbecue at Yankee Stadium, Mamma Mias theatre, and the late night bar hangout. My facebook and email messages are the same way… everyone wanting to know where I got my piggy hats! I think now that I am going to have to start carrying them for sale at my restaurants.

Famous Dave’s lesson: don’t take yourself too seriously that you can’t wear a pig on top of your head. Make the world laugh! I got to tell you that if you want an even bigger reaction… drive around with one on top of your head. You should see the looks, the big-eyed stares, and laughs I get from people in other cars when I do this and I am stopped at a red light!!!

First Challenge: World Famous Yankee Stadium…I have to say that this was a real treat. I don’t think most people who have never been to Yankee Stadium can comprehend the legendary heritage that Yankee Stadium seems to just ooze. This building is a majestic tribute to one of the best teams to every play the game of baseball and to the vision of George Steinbrenner. Traveling to Yankee Stadium was like a major field trip complete with a whole entourage. While the Best In Smoke competitors were only three, it takes a whole studio entourage to travel. Each competitor got their own huge black van with our names on the door. The license plates were not NYC license plates but Food Network license plates… all I could think was these folks (the Food Network) have some kind of pull around here. There was a driver, producer, camera guy, and a sound guy that traveled with us wherever we went. Then you had all the writers, judges, and the host that traveled in a big fancy touring coach bus. This entourage required a police escort and also coordination with a ground crew that was on site setting up all the sound & lighting before we arrived including having to save about a half city block of parking for the Food Network’s moving caravan.

Before we left the New Jersey’s Liberty park where we the challenges are staged, we were told to bring identification and our cell phones. Once we got to Yankee Stadium we had unload everything near the delivery guard gate where armed police with bullet proof vests with bomb sniffing dogs had to check every single thing we brought in. Next, they took our identification and confiscated all our cell phones! We were told that we couldn’t take pictures of anything where we were going and it was absolutely forbidden to talk to a player or take pictures of the players. Then we were escorted into the depths of this huge stadium to the Player’s Club. This high-end restaurant for the Yankee Fans most elite season ticket holders is quite the dining experience. The barons of Wall Street, politicians, movie actors, and sport celebrities can be seen dining here before a game. This is white glove service in a sports themed atmosphere with all the historical pictures of baseball legends like Babe Ruth and sports memorabilia of a World Championship baseball team. There were huge high-definition TVs playing all the baseball games. It was the ultimate sports bar on steroids! I was bummed we couldn’t take pictures otherwise I am sure we would have looked like a group of Japanese who just got off the boat taking a million pictures every second!

I knew Charlie and I had a great Smokey Sausage Sandwich topped with a spicy mustard coleslaw and served on a buttery toasted bun. The Sausages was robust and flavorful to begin with and then we slow smoked it under some intense apple wood smoke…MMmmm. Next, we put a nice char on the sausage which combined with the applewood smoke was incredibly tasty! The Coleslaw was cold and spicy, a real nice contrast to the hot smokey sausage. The bun we generously slathered with butter because I wanted a good crunchy caramelized butter crunch to it. This was the perfect hand held ball park type of food you’d want to eat while watching America’s favorite pastime! Leaving Yankee Stadium, I knew just by the way all the Yankee fans kept coming back for more and telling me my sandwich was killer that I had smashed this one out of the ball park… the smokey sausage, spicy cold coleslaw, and the crunchy buttery bun was a grand slam homerun!

2ND Surprise Challenge: Barbeque On Broadway…This was the surprise challenge, not only did we have to cook for Yankee Stadium and the fix our last challenge for a NYC late night bar crowd… we had smoke up something healthy for the cast of the Broadway Play Mamma Mia! When our traveling caravan and entourage pulled up to the Theatre District on Broadway we could see that the whole street on one side was blocked off. Now I knew that the Food Network people had some real connections the way they were able to block off a whole busy street in NYC! When our entourage arrived, we felt like real TV celebrities with all the lights, cameras and all the gawkers that were trying to see why the street was blocked off and all the TV cameras were set up! Charlie and I decided on making up a smokey pork tenderloin which is very lean and then slice it thin to put on top of a pineapple, roasted corn, onion, and grilled zucchini Maque Choux. This was layered on a crispy Romaine lettuce wrap. Charlie also had made up a very tasty curried lentil bean recipe, which we used to layer everything on the lettuce wrap. We thought this was tasty and from the reaction of our Broadway casting crew… I thought we had another winner!

Little did I know that the judges hated the curried lentil beans on our otherwise very tasty lettuce wrap. But here the laughter… when I first arrived on set. I had to unload everything and my hot box where my hot food was stored had a latch that wasn’t secured and my hot box slid off of the moving cart and this aluminum pan of lentil beans went crashing to the asphalt street. Immediately, 20 cameras came running over and zoomed in on me picking up this pan of overturned lentil beans. I thought for sure this was going to make it on TV… me picking up lentils off the streets of NYC… all I could think…how embarrassing! The aluminum pan had an aluminum foil over it and this is actually what hit the street so I felt the lentil beans never got spilt and they were still safe to use on the lettuce wraps. NOW THAT I LOOK BACK ON THIS WHOLE THING AFTER SEEING THE LAST SEGMENT AND HOW THE JUDGES HATED THE LENTIL BEANS…IT WAS THE BBQ GODS THAT WERE JUMPING UP AND DOWN SHOUTING AT ME TO DITCH THE LENTIL BEANS AND BBQ GODS EVEN WENT SO FAR AS TO DUMP THEM ON THE STREET!!!

Dumb me, I should have never picked up the lentil beans but I knew Charlie had worked so hard on these, I am sure he wouldn’t liked it if I went back and told him I had dumped his lentil beans on the streets of NYC! Without the lentil beans we would have won this challenge and that would now be two competitions we had won before the third challenge!

Famous Dave’s Lesson: There are times when you have to follow your gut even if it means pissing off other people but you have to do what’s right for the task.

3RD Challenge: Late Night NYC Partiers…This was our last challenge. Charlie and I had been smoking up some tender smokey briskets all day and had a pretty tasty smokey honey mustard potato salad that supposed to be topped with a fire & ice pickled onion & pepper type of coleslaw. But then the big bombshell dropped…that was when we got surprised that we had to create a vegetarian barbecue dish using tofu. I about fell over when I heard that…TOFU??? I really don’t know anything about tofu. I don’t eat tofu and for sure I never put tofu in my smoker. I was sharing with the camera crew that my smoker was crying out… “Take that out! Please don’t put that in me!” and it felt like I had let my smoker get violated. There’s a special relationship between a smoker and it’s Pitmaster… and I totally felt like I had breached our trust somehow

We didn’t have an idea what to do about our Tofu. We tried grilling it but it kept falling apart on our grill. So Charlie had a stove top smoker used for getting intense smoke on herbs and seasoning or it makes a terrific smoker for small cuts of fish. Finally, we had smokey tofu for which we made a balsamic vinegar glaze and topped it off with a flavorful spicy chimichurri sauce. Our side dish was a tasty tomato & mozzarella pasta. We actually had gotten some very favorable comments on how tasted the vegetarian combo meal but I know deep down that Matt Lang probably had done something strange to the tofu and had made it taste better than mine.

Scoring Summary…I knew I had won the first round at Yankee Stadium. The judges didn’t like the way Chris Lilly’s hand held tacos fell apart. And the Chef Tim Love said Matt’s dish tasted like “heartburn” and a big mis-step for Matt Lang. Judging by people’s reaction at the Broadway Show Mamma Mia!, I thought I still had a respectable dish. However, after watching the show the judges didn’t like the lentil beans of ours and really didn’t think too much of Chris’s sliced pork on beans & rice. But the judges did think that Matt nailed it with his banana wrapped surprise. The final challenge: feeding late night party folk. I think I got pretty favorable comments on my smokey brisket and people loved the potato salad. While no one told me my tofu sucked I am sure that Chris Lilly’s and Matt’s were better. I did appreciate hearing Mitch Davis say that I had pretty respectable brisket. However, our friend Tim Love really did his best acting job to grimace while choking on my tofu, which he called “Styrofoam with a glaze!” If it was really that bad, I would have gotten the same response from all the bar crowd that was eating it and if I had seen anybody choke on it the same way Judge Tim Love choked on it… I would have immediately tossed the rest of it in the garbage! I may not have submitted the best tofu dish but if someone was going to choke on it… I would have never served it. Everybody raved about Chris Lilly’s pulled pork sandwich and that’s why I really thought Chris won the $50,000. I do have to call it as I see it and I don’t recall anyone saying that Matt Lang’s banana wrapped pork with all the pickled veggies on top was really phenomenal to win $50,000. But after watching the show it was clear that Matt won it on TOFU and anyone strange enough to make $50,000 tofu… deserves to win!

IN SUMMARY…I know there has been a lot of hubbub about this not being a real barbeque show and that the dyed in the wool barbeque fanatics called a win by tofu as some kind of bbq heresy… but I want everyone to know I was extremely grateful to have been asked to be part of six incredible competitors on this first Food Network’s Best In Smoke series. Somehow I don’t think there has ever been a more controversial Food Network show where you have many viewers slamming not only the bbq challenges but also the people who won. That is the world of barbecue… you have very passionate loyal barbeque fanatics who love their barbeque to the point of all out war! That’s why I love being able to make my living in the world of barbeque. People get real passionate about their barbeque and we are very fortunate that we have many raving loyal fans of Famous Dave’s who absolutely love my real pit smoked barbeque. So I want everyone to know that while I didn’t win that I was very honored to have been on the show. My facebook page has doubled since this show started and I can’t even walk in my restaurants now without having to sign all sorts of pieces of paper, clothing, and even body parts!… which I politely refuse. And all this business about being “Famous” …I always tell people, “It’s the ribs that are famous and I’m only just the cook!”

~ Famous

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