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On the Road with BBQ Pitmasters: The Gulf Coast and Austin

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Summer is the season of family vacations and weekend gatherings, often with plenty of cold beer and hot barbecue. This summer marks the fourth season of BBQ Pitmasters, a Destination America network TV series that pits top grill masters against one another in sizzling, cash-prize showdowns held in places across the nation—from the South to the Midwest to points east. Rand McNally teams with the network to bring you the takeaways from upcoming shows and what’s cooking in their respective settings. Catch the premiere episode Sunday, June 2 at 9 pm E/P, and then get out the grill and get going!

“When Pigs Fly” in Pensacola, FL

BBQ Pitmasters Takeaways: Three pitmasters show off their best pork spare ribs and pork butt during Pensacola’s Smokin’ in the Square Festival. From Chandler, OK, is David Bouska, a six-time grand champion who knows his meat (and his spices, sauces, and rubs). Atlanta’s fun-loving Eric Thomas sets out to prove that the best barbecue comes from Georgia. And “Big Jim” Modesitt hopes his organic seasonings will put San Francisco barbecue on the map. Find out who wins the coveted $50,000 prize and title of Kingsford BBQ Pitmaster Grand Champion and who ends up licking the rub from their wounds on Sunday, June 2 at 9 pm E/P. —Destination America

What Else is Cookin’: In descriptions of this Florida Panhandle city, the superlatives seem endless. Founded in 1559, Pensacola is the nation’s oldest city (beating St. Augustine by six years), with a back story you can almost taste on a tour of Historic Pensacola Village. The city is also home to the National Naval Aviation Museum, the nation’s largest, as well as a naval air station with one of America’s best flight teams: the Blue Angels. If you like your military history served up with sun and sand, check out Gulf Islands National Seashore, where old forts sit along pristine beaches—perfect for strolling, shelling, or sunbathing.

Pensacola’s playful side has a flavor geared to both the young and the young at heart. Dress in your spring-break (or beach-bum) best, and head to Flora-Bama, a beach bar that’s consistently voted one of America’s best and that hosts an annual event (the Interstate Mullet Toss) that’s got to be one of America’s weirdest. The suites at the Portofino Island Resort & Spa are the perfect places to rest up from all the day and night beach activity. Before leaving town, visit Joe Patti’s Seafood, a renowned fish market, and have some selections shipped home.

Chew on This: When you’ve had your fill of Pensacola’s maritime fare, BBQ Pitmasters judge, Myron Mixon, suggests heading to Phil’s Jazzy Barbecue.

“Pork-en for Dinner” in Mobile, AL

BBQ Pitmasters Takeaways: During Mobile’s 12th Annual Hog Wild Festival, three pitmasters compete by grilling up whole pork shoulder and whole chicken. Mark “Pig Daddy” Little brings his family’s North Carolina barbecue heritage to bear. From Lynchburg, TN, comes mason-turned-barbecuer Chuck Baker. Rounding out the line-up is Sara Horowitz, a professional French chef who isn’t afraid to test her culinary expertise in the pit. Who will win, and who will return to the pits empty handed? Find out on Sunday, June 9 at 9 pm E/P. —Destination America

What Else is Cookin’: Start with some laid-back Gulf Coast culture, mix in some Southern charm, add a dash of New Orleans–style history and flavor, and you have the vacation-destination cocktail that is Mobile. Like its larger Louisiana sister, Mobile was colonized by the French, English, and Spanish and has an architectural (and Mardi Gras) legacy to match. Live-oak shaded Greek Revivals and Italianates line streets in roughly a half-dozen historic districts. Some houses, like those at the Oakleigh Historic Complex, are museums you can tour.

The best place to get your geographical and historical bearings, though, is at the Historic Forte Conde Museum & Visitors Center. Then get your party on at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Spend some time along Mobile Bay touring the U.S.S. Alabama, a WW II battleship, and the 40-odd other examples of military might on display in Battleship Memorial Park. Wander historic Dauphine Street to browse in shops like the beloved Bienville Books,  sample Southern fare in locally owned restaurants, or bar hop from Irish pubs to live-music clubs. A stay at the Fort Conde Inn, lets you immerse yourself in history.

Chew on This: Topping Mixon’s list for barbecue in Mobile is The Brick Pit. Many locals agree.

“Everything’s Beefier in Texas”

BBQ Pitmasters Takeaways: Austin is as famous for live music as it is for beef. In this episode, contestants attempt to make the judges sing by cooking up beef ribs and beef shoulder clod. Glenn Gross wants to show that Philly cuisine is about more than just cheese steaks. Mississippi’s Garry Roark, a 29-time grand champion, sets out to prove that experience is king. And Michael Character is a no-nonsense Georgian with a simple goal: being the best. Find out who wrangles a win and who goes back to the cutting board on Sunday, June 16 at 9 pm E/P. —Destination America

What Else is Cookin’: The independent spirit that characterizes Texas permeates Austin. After all, this is the capital of a state that was its own republic for 10 years. You need only tour the Texas Capitol or the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to see how self-sufficiency shaped the Lone Star State. But Austin is also a free-thinking university town, an innovative tech-industry hub, and a creative art and music mecca. The catchphrase on T-shirts sold around town sums up this brand of independence: “Keep Austin Weird.”

Rush-hour traffic aside, daytime streets are languid. But, as the sun sets, the energy level rises. Entertainment hotspots open their shutters, turn on their lights, and turn up the volume. Antone’s, the Broken Spoke, and the Continental Club are just the “A,” “B,” and “C,” of the many classic places to drink and dance. To learn more about the city’s musical heritage, take a soundstage tour of the Moody Theater, where the show, Austin City Limits, is taped. Then check out Waterloo Records, whose enormous stock of CDs and vinyl features many Texas musicians. Just before twilight, head to the Congress Avenue Bridge in time for one of weird Austin’s weirdest sights: a huge bat colony taking flight for the night. Splurge on a room (or at least an afternoon cocktail) at the Driskill Hotel, a 19th-century grand dame with a history that’s as wild as the west itself.

Chew on This: For Texas-style barbecue in Austin, Mixon recommends John Mueller Meat Co.  Arrive early, before the day’s barbecue sells out.