Chefs, Pitmasters, and Personalities

Behind the Scenes as a Fire Wrangler of Project Fire

Fire Wrangler of Project Fire

Wonder what it’s like filming on the set of Project Fire? Steve Nestor, fire wrangler of Project Fire Season 2, takes us behind the scenes in this guest blog!

How I went from student to “Fire Wrangler”

In 2015 I met Steven Raichlen when my wife surprised me with my first trip to Barbecue University (BBQU). I hadn’t taken a vacation since starting my own Physical Therapy practice in 2013.

Fast forward to 2018 and I returned to BBQU where Steven and I discussed his upcoming book The Brisket Chronicles. I asked about the “Hot and Fast” method for cooking brisket, so he challenged me to give it a shot. Our results are in The Brisket Chronicles.

A few months later Steven invited me to be the Fire Wrangler on set for Project Fire Season 2. My first reaction was absolutely, but then realized I have a business to run. My wife told me “do it”! She wasn’t going to watch the show while listening to me regretting that I did not participate.

I wasn’t sure what a Fire Wrangler really does so, I asked lots of questions as I do every day as a Physical Therapist. I spoke with Matt (Director), Frank (Producer) and Gwenn (Production Assistant) and learned that this is an important role. I left for Steinhatchee, FL with the support of my wife, feeling excited and a little nervous since I didn’t want to screw up. This is TV!

Moving Grill

Work started as soon as I arrived. I had to coordinate moving the oversized grills and pallets full of charcoal on set with a forklift. One of the charcoal pallets tipped over while moving it and there were bags of charcoal all over the parking lot. I’m glad I wasn’t driving, and it wasn’t a grill!

Set-up day is a busy. It involves getting the oversized grills out of the shipping crates, assembling the charcoal grills, gas grills, pellet smokers, ceramic cookers, and a wood burning grill. Thirty-three in total. As the rookie, I continued to ask the Project Fire veterans for advice. Best advice… “always have charcoal ready”. Thanks Ryan.

Fire Wrangler of Project Fire - Set Up

Fire wrangler is a physical job, so I would start each morning at 6:15am by stretching out (as I often instruct my patients). Breakfast was at 7:00am. On set for 7:30am to fire up the grills for the first recipe. There was always grill or two on set for Steven and grills behind the scenes for Chris. Chris prepares food to swap out and for the “beauty” shots.

Once the grills were going for the first recipe, I would start prepping grills for the next recipe, grills for the afternoon, cleaning grills, or syncing up the remote thermometers. I was always near-by listening for Steven’s call for more hot charcoal or burning wood logs, or to manage a problem with a grill, a thermometer, or a frozen propane tank.

Live fire cooking makes filming a TV show a challenge. Charcoal and wood burn down while scenes are re-done and there is food on the grill. Watching Steven manage the fires, re-shoot a scene, and keep the food from burning is a show within the show. It is surprising how much charcoal or wood one recipe requires.

Lunch was at “sweet tea o’clock” after the morning recipes where filmed. Fiddlers Restaurant has great sweet tea.

The afternoon began around 2pm with firing up a grill for the next recipe and cleaning grills used during the morning shoot. Prep for the next day would also begin. What grills were needed? Were they clean and ready to go? Did I need to have charcoal or wood burning? Did I need to set-up any special features on the grills? The day would wrap up about 7:30-8pm after moving all grills off set, cleaning grills, and finishing prep for the next day.

Fire Wrangler of Project Fire - Wood Grill

The Fire Wrangler job is a hot, physical, and sometimes dirty job. The job required long pants, long sleeves, hat, sunglasses, and a neck gator due to the hot grills, hot sun, and the bugs that greeted you in the morning and said “goodnight” at the end of the day.

The biggest challenge was “being ready” and trying to anticipate what would be needed next. In addition to keeping grills going on set, I kept grills fired up for Chris behind the scenes. This was key to the flow of the show, since some recipes take hours to cook and TV doesn’t wait.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? I had a blast and would do it again. One of the highlights was going fishing with Steven on our day off. Steinhatchee, FL is right on the Gulf of Mexico and is known for fishing and scalloping.

It was an awesome experience to witness the production of Project Fire, learn new recipes, taste delicious food, and meet all the dedicated and super talented people that create the show. Steven, thanks for letting me contribute. Not only did I go from student to Fire Wrangler, I went from fan to friend.

Steve Nestor and Steven Raichlen

Dr Steve Nestor
Nestor Physical Therapy LLC

Don’t forget to catch the all-new season of Project Fire! Click here to find your local broadcast.

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