Eddie Jackson Talks Barbecue And The Best Tailgating Foods - Exclusive Interview

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There are a number of professional football players who are duel threats whether it's Taysom Hill tackling tight end and quarterback, Bo Jackson embarking on a Major League Baseball career, or the 1986 Chicago Bears and their (thankfully) short-lived hip-hop side project. But no one except Eddie Jackson can boast the double distinction of NFL veteran and "Food Network Star" champion and around these parts a resume doesn't get more impressive than that.

Since earning the coveted title in 2015 on the show's 11th season, Jackson has become a Food Network fixture, winning over viewers with his infectiously upbeat personality and barbecue prowess. This summer the Houston-based chef has proved why you don't mess with Texas, competing against Bobby Flay and Michael Symon on "BBQ Brawl." When he's not busy going grill-to-grill with culinary icons, Jackson is the owner of Rosehill Beer Garden in Cypress, Texas, and the recently-named Chief Recipe Officer for Beef Loving Texans, the consumer-facing brand of the Texas Beef Council. He is also the author of "Game-Day Eats: 100 Recipes for Homegating as a Pro," the 2019 cookbook that fuses his love of football and food.

During an exclusive interview with Mashed, Jackson offered up his expertise on homegating and tailgating, revealed what took place behind the scenes of "BBQ Brawl" (spoiler alert: there was plenty of trash talking), and opened up about his close friendships with mentors (and occasional rivals) Flay and Symon.

Eddie Jackson shares his tailgate and homegate expertise

Football season is just around the corner. You literally wrote the book on game day eats. Can you break down the fundamentals of what makes a great tailgate?

For me, I think the perfect tailgate is to make sure that you have a little bit of something for everybody. I also tell people that you have to have a good amount of one-handers. Tailgate is all about eating and indulging in some beverages, so if you're drinking beer, you got to be able to have one hand free. I always like to do things like sliders; I think one of my go-to kind of tailgate or homegate dishes is a good beef slider, which I think is really good. But those are the two things that I always tell people, make sure you got a good array of things for everybody and always have some good one-handers.

Sometimes barbecue is an overnight affair, it can take hours. Do you have any recommendations if you have limited cook time for shortcuts or hacks that you can use?

Yeah, absolutely. So, for me, when you're talking about smoking meats and barbecue, things like that, especially cuts like brisket ... We do a lot of brisket here in Texas, but the good thing about it is you can do that the day before, even two days before, and just literally reheat it in your smoker, which will only take about 45 minutes to an hour. That's normally what I do when I do things like brisket, I'll cook ... If we're going to tailgate or homegate on a Saturday, I'll actually cook it up on Thursday, and just kind of wrap it in foil or with a little bit of butcher's paper. Keep it in the refrigerator, and then the day of, that morning of, I just reheat it in my smoker for about an hour and it's ready for service.

How do you prepare your brisket?

My brisket rub is three to one: three parts coarse black pepper, one part kosher salt. General rule of thumb is one hour per pound, but every brisket is different. I smoke over oak wood at 275 degrees until an internal temp of 170-175 degrees then wrap it and place it back on [the] smoker until I reach 205 degrees internal temp. I then rest my brisket 1-4 hours or overnight if I'm getting ready for a tailgate. Outside of that I often make tacos with brisket braising it in dried pepper paste like ancho and bock beer until it shreds.

Eddie Jackson reveals the inspiration behind his recipes

What is your dream tailgate menu?

Well, so my dream tailgate menu, wow, that's so hard. I mean, I have a book that literally has over a hundred recipes. Definitely brisket, because you can do so many things with brisket, whether you just want to slice it and serve it. You can make chopped beef out of it. I've even gone so far as to shred the beef and make tacos, or stuff it in potatoes, which I think is really good for a homegating, tailgating. Definitely sliders are going to be in there. Every homegate, tailgate that I have, I 100% have sliders. I have a great recipe for Jamaican jerk sliders. I always try to find a way to get some Caribbean flavors in there. So the Caribbean jerk sliders would definitely be on the menu. [I'm] going to have three different variations of tacos, and you can prepare that ahead of time and warm your tortillas up and just have people just kind of make a tortilla or taco bar. So those are the three things that I think would definitely be at my homegate.

You mentioned using Jamaican flavors. You do a Thai beef salad, you do a kebab trio where you have flavors of Italy, Korea, and North Africa. What inspires the global influence in your food?

Well, for me, I started off really specializing in Caribbean cuisine. I used to play for the Miami Dolphins, and so I ended up living in Miami for about 15 years, and I really fell in love with the Caribbean kind of culture, the Caribbean flavors. But throughout my travels with Food Network, while I was playing professional football, I've traveled all over the place. Every time I go somewhere new, I really engulf myself with the flavors of that area, that region, or that state, wherever I'm at. 

So that's really kind of how I've kind of picked up different flavors, not necessarily changing my cooking techniques, but more so pairing different flavors that I necessarily didn't grow up with myself. So I find a lot of new things living here in Houston. We have a huge Asian community, and I've been in Houston for over eight years now, so I picked up a lot of those flavors. Going to Chinatown over off of Bissonnet [Street] and just trying things, and trying to incorporate that into my cooking style I already have.

Why BBQ Brawl is a career highlight for Eddie Jackson

Speaking of the Food Network, you've been on so many competition shows. Is there one, in particular, that's your favorite?

So for me, "BBQ Brawl" is probably my favorite show because of a couple of different things. I love barbecue. I was in my backyard here in Texas, so doing things that I love, smoking briskets, surrounded by protein and wood. But I also got to share that experience with two of, kind of like my mentors, people that I look up to in the food world, being Bobby Flay and Michael Symon. They too share a great passion of proteins, things like brisket and prime rib, which we cooked a lot of on the show, beef ribs. So it was cool to share that experience with two mentors, two people that I really look up to.

There are moments on "BBQ Brawl" where the cooking truly gets heated. Do you feel the pressure? Is there a genuine sense of competition on the show?

There is. Before the show, Michael Symon and Bobby Flay were great friends. So I thought it was really cool to be able to do that show with them, especially doing something that I love, which is barbecuing and smoking meats, which they necessarily don't have as much experience as I do, but they have fine dining experience. So I just thought it was really cool to have them in my backyard, doing something that I love, and smoking meats.

Any fun, crazy moments happen behind the scenes that we didn't get to see on the show?

It was a lot of smack talk, especially when we got done. It was a huge amount of smack talk, but all in good fun, just because we're so close friends. So it was really cool to be on their same level and be able to talk a little smack.

What's your best Bobby insult?

You know what? I really don't have a lot of insults with Bobby. This dude is like the Michael Jordan of cooking, so you can't talk too much smack to Bobby Flay, because he can back it up. So I kind of kept mine limited, more so just like, "I'm going to take you out today," that kind of stuff. You can't talk smack about his cooking, he's a star.

How Bobby Flay and Michael Symon inspire Eddie Jackson

You're also a frequent guest on "Beat Bobby Flay." What's it like being able to work with him, considering you admire his cooking so much and you two are such good friends?

The thing I love most about Bobby is how humble he is. He's a very humble guy and I pride myself on being a humble guy, no matter what opportunities I get or what success I get, and Bobby is exactly like that. But Bobby has great versatility in his cooking, and I pride myself on being able to do that, which I try to show, being the chief recipe officer for Beef Loving Texans, really highlighting the versatility of beef. That's something that I've noticed with Bobby, no matter what he's cooking, he really has a very versed knowledge of ways to prepare things. I feel like that's why I have such a good relationship with Beef Loving Texans, and being the chief recipe officer is showing that versatility. Those are kind of the tricks and things that I've learned being around Bobby Flay.

What's the best advice that Bobby and Michael have given you?

[A] 100%, and this is when I first started out with Food Network is to stay true to myself, and not ... I don't walk around and say, "I'm a world-class chef," because I'm not a world-class chef. I'm a great chef, but I haven't been cooking for 40 years like Bobby Flay. Eventually, I think I can get there, but I just stay true to myself, stay true to my flavors. I feel like that is what has really gotten me to where I'm at today.

Eddie Jackson talks competing on MasterChef and eating in the NFL

You launched your TV food career as a contestant on the fourth season of "MasterChef." Did Gordon Ramsay have any supportive words? Did he push you to make this a permanent career path?

You know what? Not really, after I left "MasterChef" is when I really kind of honed in on my craft and really got to work because I felt like I had an opportunity. Being on that show really opened up my eyes that, "Hey, you can really do this on a bigger level." So when I actually left "MasterChef" is when I really got truly serious, not only with my craft, but I felt that I could do something on a bigger stage, on TV.

Going back to your football days, you worked with some of the biggest dudes on Earth. Did you ever witness any amazing eating feats or have any crazy food stories from those days?

Most of the food stories that we have were centered around maybe our pre-game meals free day meals. We had some guys that would eat some serious food. We would always have prime rib the day before a game. I've seen some guys ... I don't know if I could say their names, I don't know if they'd appreciate it because there's rules about what you're supposed to eat. But I've seen some guys eat pretty much a whole half of a prime rib.

Find out if Eddie Jackson will lead his team to victory on "BBQ Brawl" which airs Mondays on Food Network. And be sure to try some of his mouthwatering recipes from his book "Game-Day Eats: 100 Recipes for Homegating as a Pro."