Eddie Jackson: From the Gridiron to the Heat of the Kitchen

On this edition of EMExclusives, Halloween is a little over a month away and that means costumes, parties and sweet treats in the forms of candy & more. Halloween Wars is back for season 11, and the search is on for twenty-four brave and supremely talented competitors who can handle challenges from the mind of paranormal investigator Zak Bagans.

Here to talk with me about this show is a culinary master who is a former football player that played for four teams during his time in the NFL including a stint with the Washington Football Team. He got his culinary start in the TV world by first being one of the contestants on MasterChef. Later, he went on to greater fame by winning the eleventh season of Food Network Star in 2015. Since his win, he went on to host numerous shows including BBQ Blitz, Kids BBQ Championship and Christmas Cookie Challenge. He was a team captain in BBQ Brawl earlier in the year. He now serves as one of the judges in this season’s Halloween Wars. 

Let’s give a scary warm welcome to Eddie Jackson!

Eddie, you’re a former football player even had time on the Washington Football Team, when did you realize that you have a talent for the culinary arts?

Yes for me, I grew in a family that was all about food. My grandmothers were chefs. So at a very young age that I learned how to cook was biscuits when I was five years old and baking pies and cakes and things like that. So, I knew at a very young age that if the sports world isn’t doing well that I was going to do something in the culinary world.

Before you became a judge and a host of many Food Network shows including BBQ Blitz, you were in the hot seat with MasterChef Season 4 and ended up winning the contest of Food Network Star Season 11. How did you first hear of the competition?

So, the thing with me is that after that retire from football, I had a conversation with my dad. You know, once I retire, I was very young. I was probably about 28 or 29 and my dad was like “Well, what do you like to do?” I was like “I love food” and he says “Figure out something to do with food.” So, I started a catering business and it was successful for me starting out. I actually first did a show called “MasterChef” and that was a prank.

So, my girlfriend at the time would see that I had all these leftovers from the catering and she would take the food to work. So, her boss was a hug MasterChef fan. I have never watched the show and he was like “Eddie needs to be on MasterChef.” So she enrolled me in MasterChef and forgot to tell me. So I got a call one day when I was working out and they went “Would you like to come out for the audition?” and I am like “For MasterChef, I don’t even know what that show is.” Long story short, I went in for the audition, I got on and did really, really well even though I didn’t win. When I got back home, I am like “I’m really digging this TV food thing.”

Fast forward two years later, I became a fan of Food Network and I’m always watching Food Network and this one night, I came home from a catering event and I was coming in late and they had one of those commercials that says “Hey, can you be the next Guy Fieri? Try out for Food Network Star.”  I was like “I feel I can do that.” I tried out, end up going on the show and winning the show. That’s how I became part of Food Network.

Tell us about Halloween Wars.

So, Halloween Wars is a baking show and obviously the premise of it is all around Halloween. All of the themes for these cake artists relate to Halloween. It is the creepiest show that I’ve been on in a very good way. I love judging cakes, desserts and things like that. Its weird to taste something so good and it’s the shape of a witch or ghost. You know what I mean? The show is a lot of fun and it really shows the creativity when it comes to baking because these artists are absolutely amazing with the things that they come up with.

So as a judge, what goes through your mind when it comes to which food is the best when it comes to taste or presentation?

For me, the first thing is my eyes. For the thing for me is that I eat with my eyes first. Its got to be presented beautifully but in the case of these cakes, did they know that the shape will be simple that they could create a gory witch? When I see, do I light up and began to immediately want to taste the cake? Then we move to the smell, does the small ignites the taste buds? And then from there, its all about balance and texture. So are the flavors balanced? Does the cake have great texture, and its moist? Are the crumbs really nice? So, that’s the process for me that I really go through: my eyes, my nose and the tasting experience.

Do you have any Halloween traditions that you celebrate?

Growing up Halloween was my favorite holiday. Then, obviously as I got a little bit older, its kind of moved away from me. Now, I have a two-and-a-half-year-old little boy, little Eddie, and he loves Halloween. We are starting our traditions now for he wears his costume all day long. This year, he wants to be a cow.  I guarantee you that come Halloween morning that he will put his costume on and wear it all day long.

Recently, you were a team captain on BBQ Brawl against Bobby Flay and Michael Symon and throughout your career you worked with the culinary giants like Ramsey and Flay to name a few. How does it feel to work with these giants of the culinary world?

First off, I grew up idolizing Bobby Flay when it comes to the culinary world. The thing about it is that I tell people to in the mind of when I was brought up that I was a huge Jerry Rice fan. The first person that I ever guarded in my NFL career was Jerry Rice. He was a little bit older on the way out, Jerry Rice was the first person that I had the opportunity to cover.

In the culinary world, the first person that I had the opportunity to work with Gordon Ramsey. Followed by Bobby Flay when I did Food Network Star. That’s how I correlate to growing up idolizing Jerry Rice to the culinary world working with Gordon Ramsey then to Bobby Flay and the first experience was gearing up to working with these guys. It’s very humbling and being blessed to have that opportunity.

OK I have to ask this question since you are an expert on BBQ, who has the best BBQ in the country?

Texas! Texas! There’s no question about it! Don’t get me know, I love all forms of barbecue but growing up in Texas there are a few things I appreciate about Texas. Wes specialize in letting the meat shine. You know, we don’t do a lot of sauce. You know, sauce is on the side. We don’t do heavy rubs. All the things that could mask the flavor of meat. We live and die by brisket and here is all about salt and pepper and the wood itself. That’s what I really love, real high-quality meat, letting the meat shine and you don’t need too much stuff on the side.

What’s your signature dish? If I had a meal with you, what can I expect?

I have to stay true to myself, you know. Growing up in Texas, I’ve always lean towards barbecue. I would definitely crank up the smoker and make you some delicious beef ribs. A lot of people didn’t have really good beef ribs and its very underrated. When you cook it right, its real tender that the meat slides right off the bone. Huge dino style Texas style ribs. That’s something that I do extremely well.

What advice would you give to future contestants who want to bring their skills to a competition similar to this?

This is my advice to everybody since I see it time and time again. Do what got you here. Time and time again people go on these shows and want to try something new for the first time. I’m like “Nooooo, don’t do that!” You never made ice cream before with liquid nitrogen and now all of a sudden you want to make ice cream. So, please don’t do that. Do what got you there. Stay true to yourself and that’s good enough.

If ever in or near Houston, go to the Rosehill Beer Garden (@rosehillgardenHOME | Rosehillbeer), his establishment! He brings the tacos, burgers, handmade pizzas, craft beers, whiskey bar and more.

Check out the new season of Halloween Wars which premieres Sunday, September 19 at 9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT on Food Network and streaming online on Discovery+

He is @chefeddiejackson on Instagram & Facebook, @EddieJackson on Twitter and go to fitchefeddie.com