Meet ‘The American Barbecue Showdown’ Judges Melissa Cookston and Kevin Bludso

Melissa is a seven-time world barbecue champion and Kevin owns Bludso’s BBQ with multiple locations in Calif.

Haylee Thorson - Author

Jul. 5 2024, Updated 1:02 p.m. ET

Judges Kevin Bludso and Melissa Cookston from 'The American Barbecue Showdown' Season 3
Source: Netflix

Fire up the grill! Season 3 of The American Barbecue Showdown is finally streaming on Netflix after initially debuting in 2020, and you won’t want to miss it.

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Featuring the return of BBQ legends Melissa Cookston and Kevin Bludso as judges, it’s no wonder fans are itching to learn more about their qualifications. And spoiler alert: These pitmasters have redefined the industry. Let’s get into their backgrounds.

Melissa Cookston

'The American Barbecue Showdown' judge Melissa Cookston holding a fork.
Source: Netflix

If there’s one thing Melissa has mastered, it’s barbecue. Hailing from the Mississippi Delta, the Barbecue Showdown judge is the only female seven-time world barbecue champion. Not only that, but the television personality is an acclaimed entrepreneur within the restaurant industry.

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The World BBQ Champion opened Memphis BBQ Company in Horn Lake, Miss., in 2011 and has secured countless accolades over the past decade.

“We forged our reputation in the fires of the world’s toughest BBQ competitions,” the establishment’s website reads. “Winning literally thousands of awards and 10 World Championships.”

Additionally, Melissa has authored two cookbooks, Smokin' in the Boy’s Room and Smokin’ Hot in the South.

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Aside from writing cookbooks and running her restaurant, Melissa has appeared in cooking shows, talk shows, and national news. Not only that, but the Barbecue Showdown judge is a Food Network veteran.

The 56-year-old has also judged the fourth season of Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters, alongside all three seasons of Netflix’s Barbecue Showdown. In 2015, Fox News named Melissa as one of the most influential BBQ pitmasters and personalities.

Philanthropy also plays a significant role in Melissa’s life and career.

The Barbecue Showdown judge is the founder of the World Junior BBQ League, a “nonprofit organization whose mission is to engage kids who are 14-18 years old or enrolled in 9th – 12th-grade equivalent curriculum in barbecue competitions to teach them invaluable life skills.”

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Kevin Bludso

'The American Barbecue Showdown' judge Kevin Bludso holding a raw piece of steak.
Source: Netflix

Like Melissa, Barbecue Showdown judge Kevin is a BBQ legend with an impressive resume. From Compton, Calif., the television personality initially worked as a correctional officer before opening his restaurant Bludso’s BBQ in 2008.

Describing himself as a “fourth generation pitmaster,” Kevin’s career has taken off since pivoting into the culinary industry.

In 2022, the New York Times named the Barbecue Showdown judge’s first cookbook, Bludso’s BBQ Cookbook, one of the “Best Cookbooks of 2022.”

Additionally, Kevin has appeared in episodes of Bar Rescue and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, alongside hosting Season 1 of Barbecue Showdown with Melissa.

And according to Kevin’s Instagram bio, the Netflix star has also secured several awards throughout his time-honored career. In the past, Kevin has won three Hoodie Awards for Best BBQ.

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Judging the second season of Barbecue Showdown isn’t the only major career milestone Kevin hit in 2023.

In April 2023, Eater revealed that Bludso’s BBQ opened a new location in Santa Monica, Calif. in June 2023. Despite living in Texas now, the restaurant owner will split his time between Texas and California to oversee Bludso’s BBQ’s expansion.

Season 3 of The American Barbecue Showdown is now streaming on Netflix.

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