Barbecue culture has got its applewood-stained hooks sunk into TV’s tender gut. BBQ Pitmasters, BBQ Crawl, Man Fire Food, Primal Grill, O.G. Bobby Flay’s all-you-can-eat roster of high-heat Food Network shows — multiple networks are vying for their slice of manly meat mastery, whether the focus is on intense competitions or the subtle, sooty art of open-flame home cooking. But with all this reality-based cookery clogging up our DVRs, it’s easy to overlook the important role the grill has played in scripted American television. Starting with the “separate beds” era of TV’s milk-swilling Golden Age and running straight through to edgier contemporary drama, comedy and satire, barbecue — both the act of prepping it and the piles of flesh themselves — has always cultivated audience connection, and likely launched thousands of commercial-break pilgrimages to the fridge.
In honor of Food Republic Grilling Month, we’ve compiled a dozen grilling and BBQ moments from the oddball cultural scrapyard that is American TV. Whether showrunners are leaning on ‘cue stereotypes for easy laughs, mining them for allegorical value or just looking for excuses to get a bunch of characters on-screen at once, this is the one time you actually want the smoke to get in your eyes.
The Dukes of Hazzard
Though it laid claim to “world’s best-tastin’ bar-b-que,” the illustrious Boar’s Nest of Hazzard County, Georgia never seemed to host much actual meat consumption — too busy accommodating Bo and Luke’s three-a-day fistfight habit and Boss Hogg’s hapless scheming. In a pious bit of post-Duke Bros penance, the building used to portray the bar on the show is now a church.
Since “the true measure of a man is how fast he can light his coals,” Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor takes it upon himself to fire up his grill with rocket fuel. I wonder what happens next! Is this before or after the youngest son went super-goth?
So many grilling-out scenes to choose from throughout the show’s six seasons, but this one stands out, in part due to Tony’s dogged attention to meat detail. Your film school friend will explain that it’s emblematic of his anguished Shakespearean desire to control those closest to him, but it’s also OK to recognize that he offers Chrissy solid advice about letting his steaks to continue cooking off the flame.
Leave it to Beaver
In the mood for some roundly sexist commentary regarding gender roles in the American household? Then you’ll love this clip of Ward Cleaver schooling young Wally on why June’s stuck inside, scrubbing pots and sweating all over her pearls, while the dudes screw around with the patio grill. "I suppose as long as she’s in the home, she might as well be in the kitchen!”
When wealthy, overbearing white people from Connecticut barbecue, they hire a toqued-up chef and force their guests to eat inside. Note Lorelai addressing the grillmaster as “Poppin’ Fresh.” Impromptu pop culture reference! So irreverent, those Gilmore Girls.
You don’t win friends with salad.
King of the Hill
When Hank Hill, the Lone Star State’s finest salesman of propane and propane accessories, shares wisdom on how to deal with guests who request their steaks well-done, you clam up and listen. Butane’s a bastard gas.
Need stone-cold killer Wee-Bey to cop to a bunch of murders? Get him another pit beef sandwich, then. Medium rare, lots of horseradish. A very Baltimore shoutout for a very underappreciated regional barbecue style.
Married… with Children.
Your pop’s not the only one who refuses to clean out his grill — Al Bundy is a high-profile devotee of the move, as it produces tremendous results (“ashes from the past for burgers of the future!”). Just make sure you know where your ashes are coming from.
House of Cards
Site of some of the insidious Netflix drama’s least subtle metaphors, Freddy’s is the favored hole-in-the-wall rib spot of amoral politico Frank Underwood. No spoilers but it becomes a Famous Dave’s by the end of season two, which enrages Frank so much he personally murders the entire Republican Study Committee.
Friday Night Lights
A favorite hangout of the Dillon, Texas ‘cue-loving crowd and troubled QB Vince Howard’s place of employment (poor Vince), Austin smokehouse Ray’s Bar-B-Q stood in for “Big Mary” Merriweather’s fictional TV business of the same name. But if you’re looking to get super-booster Buddy Garrity’s go-to order (babybacks, collards, fritters, extra sauce) for yourself, you’re out of luck — the real-life Ray’s recently closed up shop. We couldn't find the exact video clip to represent this, but here are a bunch of y'alllls.