LATROBE - The four contestants scrambled between the onsite pantry and their grillers, intensely trying to outdo each other by grilling the very best lamb recipe at Jamison Farms in Latrobe.
Meanwhile, farm owner John Jamison and two other judges intently watched the contestants, who cooked as a Travel Channel camera crew rolled nearby, filming an episode of a new series, "American Grilled."
The show premieres next week; the Jamison Farms episode will air at a later date.
"It was a close contest," Jamison said after the recent filming at the Westmoreland County farm. "They all really did a great job.
"It was nice that these people were really cognizant of the fact that they were working in front of judges who knew what they were doing, and they didn't want to blow it," Jamison said. "They were serious contestants. That was the kick. It was fun."
In "American Grilled," debuting at 10 p.m. July 2 with a 13-episode season, grillers from many backgrounds compete in an outdoor cooking challenge. In each episode, the four contestants each will come up with his or her own twist on the basic dish - lamb, in this case - and pick seasonings to use. They have 40 minutes to prepare their meals. The first episode takes place in Asheville, N.C.
A panel of judges picks the winning dish. Each episode has four contestants who compete for a $10,000 prize. Contestants do not advance to a new episode; every episode has its own competition and winner. The grillers, who are not culinary pros, use many local ingredients and flavors, such as Amish-raised chicken or lamb from a farm, said David Guas, the show's host.
"This show isn't about professional chefs," said Guas, a New Orleans native. He now is the owner and chef of Arlington, Virginia-based Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, which serves his hometown food such as gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish and beignets.
"This is about ... the backyard: one of America's greatest pastimes," said Guas, who is a regular guest on "The Today Show," and has appeared on the Food Network and Cooking Channel. His cookbook, "DamGoodSweet - Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style," was a finalist for a James Beard Award and was named one of Food & Wine magazine's best new dessert cookbooks.
Guas hopes "American Grilled" inspires people to get back outside and do some cooking on a hot grill.
"The competition only gets harder and hotter as you get close to the $10,000 prize," Guas said. "It's intense, but it's fun."
Jamison said the contestants surprised him with their skill and the range of grilled lamb dishes they invented, despite the pressure and challenge. They each cooked Jamison lamb, but with a self-selected range of seasonings and methods.
"It was interesting; it was difficult," Jamison said.
"I thought this was going to be real easy and fun and just kind of a kick. To do it right - it was very difficult."
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7824.