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On the grill: 'Chopped's' annual summer tournament sizzles

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Andrew Warren / TV Media
Judges Marc Murphy, Alex Guarnaschelli and Marcus Samuelsson and host Ted Allen with the contestants in "Chopped Grill Masters"

Judges Marc Murphy, Alex Guarnaschelli and Marcus Samuelsson and host Ted Allen with the contestants in "Chopped Grill Masters"

We're about halfway through summer, and barbecue season is in full swing. For "Chopped" host Ted Allen, that can only mean one thing: another season of "Chopped Grill Masters" is imminent.

The special summer competition is back on TV screens Tuesday, Aug. 1, on Food Network, with 16 talented grilling pros in pursuit of a grand prize that includes a Napa Valley vacation and an irresistible $50,000.

The formula is classic "Chopped." In each episode, four challengers compete to put out the best plates over three rounds (appetizer, entrée and dessert), using a basket of four mystery ingredients that must be incorporated. One of them is eliminated -- or chopped, in the show's parlance -- after every round. For the fifth and final episode of "Grill Masters," airing Tuesday, Aug. 29, the winners of the previous four episodes come together for a final round of culinary battles that decides who is the greatest master of all things grilled.

"Chopped" is a tough competition, but at least it's normally held in the controlled environment of the "Chopped" kitchen. Not so for "Grill Masters," which heads outdoors and trades in the stove tops and ovens for propane grills and charcoal briquettes. The bright studio lighting is replaced by a sweltering sun, and a climate-control system is replaced by winds that can wreak havoc on anything that isn't weighted down.

These are grill masters, though: men and women who deal with these conditions all the time. In classic "Chopped" tradition, the real challenges are found in the baskets. The first episode finds a strange kind of pie alongside a beautiful pork cut in the appetizer basket, while the entrée basket holds a special vegan surprise. 

The culinary curveballs keep coming as the competition goes on over the next five weeks. The chefs have to contend with two proteins in one basket, a surprise birthday cake, frozen daiquiris and even beans for dessert. 

If it sounds like it might be tough to put together a meal using those ingredients and at the mercy of mother nature, that's because it is. With $50,000 and a dream vacation on the line, though, no one expected "Chopped Grill Masters" to be a walk in the park. The summer grilling competition gets underway Tuesday, Aug. 1, on Food Network.