How does it feel finally filming a show in the UK?

It's amazing. When we shot Man v. Food, I was lucky enough to be successful with it – but I had no idea how the industry worked, and that my show could be shown abroad, and that kind of thing. Everyone was saying I should shoot something here, or shoot Man v. Food here, and unfortunately we were supposed to take Man Finds Food international, but things got derailed last year, they put the series on hold, and I thought "Ah man, I don't know when I'm gonna be able to shoot in England."

It's kind of a love-letter to my fans, that I get to do it. And the fact that I get to do it with a type of food that's indigenous to my country is the coolest thing ever, because it means this export that I've helped bring here though Man v. Food and Fandemonium or whatever has been so well received here that there's a restaurant called Man v. Food, and restaurateurs are saying that they've been inspired by seeing my show, and inspired to create dishes. So it's amazing, and it's so crazy to think that it's on ITV1. Of the shows that have jumped the pond our way, we know about Corrie; we know about Downton Abbey; we know about Broadchurch. It's the craziest thing in the world – I'm over the moon. I owe it to the UK, so I hope the viewers learn as much as possible from the show, and I hope to do more – to film in people's restaurants, and give recipes to people, and give back, because I do nothing but get from this place.

Where did you find the contestants?

I kept putting out casting call notices on my social media and they did as well, and people entered. You don't want a bunch of heavy-set white dudes going "Hey, we gon' rub it, we gon' stuff it," and I never wanted to do this kind of "I'm American –let me show you Brits how to do it" thing – that such a lame way to go about things. Contestants-wise, I think we really ended up getting a wonderful mix.

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Where did you film it?

The first challenges were always in BBQ HQ, which was in Hampshire. Every trip I've ever done to the UK I've been in London, with the exception of playing at Old Trafford for Soccer Aid. All of a sudden we shot a bunch of VTs for the show, and I was in Brighton, I was in Leeds, I was in other areas. But we were in Hampshire for the show, and we had this amazing set where each barbecuer had a grill and a smoker in a little pod, and – as someone who cooks, I want this in my house – we had a living wall. It's the most brilliant piece of set design I've ever seen in my life. It was a wall that had a living substrate in it, and it was made of wood, so herbs could grow out of it, vine tomatoes could grow out of it, it had cool earth to keep veggies in, and then the other half, the woods, you could use as fuel, and pull out logs and chips from the wall and make your fire.

And then we did the second half of the show, which is a location challenge. So we filmed in West Wittering in Sussex. We filmed the Stanstead House, we filmed at Camden Market for an international street food challenge, we filmed at Broadgate Circle, we did something in Surrey, too.

The British love amateur cooks doing battle. Why do you think that is?

It's the same reason that I think Food Fighters has done so well, I think most of the world are home cooks. There are different types of food enthusiasts, with different types of food, and we outnumber the chefs. As Jim Morrison said, "They've got the guns, but we've got the numbers." And for as many people who know how to make a soufflé, and know how to break down the mother cuts of beef, or the mother sauces, or know how to supreme a lemon, those guys are out there. But I guarantee you that there's a mom in Bolton who could deliver Sunday joints that's as good as anything that they're gonna make.

I think that's the beauty. I know that's something ITV's very keen on – that the viewers are seeing themselves on screen – what I do on screen and what I do in real life are the same damn thing. I'm just as much of a bellend in real life as I am on TV. I take my job seriously, but not myself, and I think there are people who take cooking seriously, but not themselves – they do passion and not preciousness; they do it with verve and not with vivisection, I guess. I think with barbecue, it's primer, the flavours are great, and when you guys get good weather, you guys maximise the hell out of it.

US barbecue culture is still quite a young thing here. Do you think you could have made this show ten years ago?

In the UK? I don't even think I'm qualified to talk about it. It's funny, I watch Sky Sports sometimes shows Premier League Years, from 1991 or from 2000, I wasn't into the Premier League in 2000 – I had heard of players, I'd played ball for seven years – but I remember coming over here on my first press junket and seeing these football review shows, going "Wait! Diego Forlán played for Man Utd? Tevez played for Man Utd? Really? In 2007? So it was Tevez and Rooney and Ronaldo?" I had no idea.

I wasn't here ten years ago, but I'll tell you this: we're definitely riding the barbecue wave

I think you're not ready till you're ready, and I don't know what the trend was then. From what I understand, wasn't ten years ago Heston's time? And Jamie's time? It was the proliferation of the celebrity restaurant. I wasn't here ten years ago, so I'd hate to hazard a guess, but I'll tell you this: we're definitely riding the wave, and that's what we did with Man v. Food – we got in on this extreme comfort food aspect in a way that nobody had before and that's all I aim to do now. If it brings more flavour and more enjoyment to the nation that's given me an unbelievable career boost, second home and increased vitality and a place where I love, I'm all for it.

Last time we chatted, I think you described it as "bite; orgasmic face; moan". Do we see plenty of that in BBQ Champ?

You know it's funny, because you have to hide your cards a little closer to the vest as a judge, but like for the grill off I have to go po-faced, because the third stage of it is the bottom two of the week go head-to-head. Actually I'm pretty good at it, and actually I feel sometimes like a little bit of a dick. I wanted to be firm but fair, I wanted to be honest, because otherwise I didn't think that anyone would grow. Sometimes it was very difficult for me – it's really painful as the lead judge – I always had to look the person in the eye and tell them they were going home.

These guys are competing for £25,000, and I knew what it would have meant to one particular competitor, and I had to watch the light go out in their eyes, and to have that look of hurt and betrayal. And you know, maybe Gordon and those guys are a little more adept at dealing with that, I get it – maybe I'm a bit of a softy, and I get that too – but I never seek to hurt anybody.

I think that's why the whole Instagram thing last year killed me – it could have made people perceive me as this mean, scathing cat, and I think you know me to be something rather different. It was hard for me because I know that these guys just wanna do well, but something I realised is that being direct is actually not just better for them as barbecuers, but it's also, better TV.

What was your favourite dish from the show?

I'll just name a few things that I liked, in no particular order. There was a chipotle apple sauce made to go with a pork loin that I would buy in a heartbeat and constantly keep in my fridge; there was a steak sauce made with a combination of pan drippings and a buttermilk blue cheese dressing that was so good that I damn-near lifted the pitcher to my lips.

There were two different variations of a jerk seasoning – one that was fortified with Guinness and one that was more like traditional with Scotch bonnets – unreal. One guy took plantains in a ceramic baking tray and slow-cooked them down with coconut milk to put onto a kebab. That was phenomenal.

What's your favourite barbecue joint in London or the UK, from where you've been travelling around?

Personally, for my taste, I happen to really like what Red's True BBQ is doing – James and Scott, they came to the States and they went to places I recommended and they've studied it. But what I really respect about them is this – and this is what I said about BBQ Champ, and I really want to make this clear – I did not want to see the these contestants, one of the punters, aping Memphis, Kansas City or St Louis, because if I want that, I'll go to Memphis, Kansas City or St Louis. I wanted UK.

So this thing is, we don't really use alder, but it's huge here. The oak that you have is different than our oak. The fruit woods that you use here and different than our fruit woods, and things like cauliflower cheese, rhubarb and custard, a Sunday joint, Yorkshire puddings – we don't do that at all. I don't want the most talented person copying what we do in America. That's not necessary. So I really like Reds, and I love the imagination behind what they do too. The ox cheek marrow luge and those onion rings, Jesus. And plus, they let me carve off this burnt end, I took a bite, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It was unreal.

BBQ Champ is on ITV, Fridays at 9pm. For more info or to watch on catch-up, go to