Student military members, veterans to ‘smoke out’ Food Network’s “BBQ USA” show


For a competition that literally goes up in smoke every year, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Office of Veteran and Military Student Services’ signature fundraising event has proven an overwhelming success.

The Food Network TV show “BBQ USA” agrees. It will feature Operation Smoke Sheaux, a barbecue cook-off that supports UL Lafayette’s members of the military, veterans and their dependents. The first airing of the TV show’s “Battle on the Bayou” episode will be Monday, Aug. 7. Broadcasts will also air on Tuesday, Aug. 8; Monday, Aug. 14; and Saturday, Aug. 26.

“Battle on the Bayou” was filmed during “BBQ USA” host Michael Symon’s visit to Operation Smoke Sheaux, which was held in March at Poche’s RV Park near Breaux Bridge, La. World renowned chef Symon, according to the “BBQ USA” website, travels “the country to check out some of the most-esteemed ’cue competitions and try the meaty masterpieces they’re famous for.”

Operation Smoke Sheaux delivered. About 60 of “the most competitive of competitive barbecuers” from the region and other states served up more than tasty spare ribs, brisket and chicken, explained UL Lafayette’s Ryan Gonzales, assistant director of Veteran and Military Student Services.

There was a special smoked gumbo competition the evening before the Saturday barbecue contest, a nod to host Symon’s request to cook one of Louisiana’s most distinctive dishes. Competitors – and attendees who paid to sample the fare on Saturday – danced to Zydeco music from Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band.

Pitmasters also consider the competition a social event. Many arrived early in RVs to set up and swap stories and laughs – but likely not recipes. Operation Smoke Sheaux is fiercely contested – for bragging rights, a slice of $10,000 in prize money, and a chance to advance to national competition. “It has a festival-like atmosphere and, since our area’s barbecue is different from anywhere else, we hope that it can help put us on the map as a go-to barbecue destination like Kansas City or St. Louis,” Gonzales said.

Operation Smoke Sheaux was launched in 2021. It’s carried out thanks to collaboration between UL Lafayette’s Office of Veteran and Military Student Services’ and the Barbecue Competitors Alliance, a local nonprofit that sanctions barbecue contests. UL Lafayette’s Dr. Andy Hollerman, interim associate director of the Louisiana Accelerator Center and a professor in the Department of Physics, is BCA president.

Competitor entry fees, attendees, and sponsor contributions fund Operation Smoke Sheaux. Everything is donated, from the meat and music to the location and student volunteer efforts, which included cooking jambalaya. The event has raised more than $29,000 since its inception. Funds go into a UL Lafayette Foundation account. The account supports Office of Veteran and Military Student Services events such as its annual crawfish boil and a pool party for student veterans.

It has also, Gonzales explained, enabled the creation of an “emergency fund” to help student veterans facing extreme hardship, including with health issues or natural disaster recovery. The efforts are important to Gonzales, a U.S. Army National Guard veteran. “We’re truly grateful for the support of the event and our student veterans and participation from the community that has allowed us to thrive and grow,” he said.

Learn more about Operation Smoke Sheaux.

Photo caption: The Food Network’s “BBQ USA” TV show will feature UL Lafayette’s Office of Veteran and Military Student Services’ signature fundraising event – Operation Smoke Sheaux. The barbecue contest will air during several upcoming episodes of “Battle on the Bayou.” Episodes will be broadcast on Monday, Aug. 7; Tuesday, Aug. 8; Monday, Aug. 14; and Saturday, Aug. 26. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette