Will Fleischman's face is painted on the side of a delivery truck he frequently uses when catering events. Covered in tattoos with a beard as striking as an outlaw's bandana, the former Lockhart Smokehouse pitmaster has appeared on three television shows. He wrote his first book in nine weeks. And after doing everything humanly possible to destroy a smoker, Fleischman now has own brand of them.
"It's ugly enough to stop traffic," Fleischman jokes, about his face on the truck.
Fleischman has an aesthetic that ZZ Top wouldn't sneeze at, but he is an educator turned pitmaster. Just a few years after learning how to smoke meat, Fleischman is a rising star of Texas barbecue.
From school halls to the smokehouse
Fleischman has been getting tattoos since he was a teenager, hasn't seen his face in years, and prefers jeans and sunglasses. There isn't a simple explanation when it comes to his physical appearance. This is just how he feels comfortable. He doesn't even listen to music, prefers NPR in the car. Fleischman enjoys donating his free time to organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Emily's Place.
"If you have a free minute in your day and you can talk yourself hoarse praising people for the positive things in their lives," Fleischman says, "there's no higher purpose that we have, in my estimation."
Fleischman has a level of volubility and intelligence that would disarm many. Once hoping to be a film critic, he wrote as a freelancer when he was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. With a background in education, Fleischman started the first five years of his career teaching in college and high school. But about 10 years ago, he moved to Dallas with his girlfriend and decided to switch gears. He earned a culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu and started his five years at Lockhart with no knowledge of Texas barbecue.
He was a quick learner, however, and ended up being featured on episodes of Bizarre Foods America, Chuck's Eat the Street, or BBQ Pitmasters. Those appearances prompted an email from Penguin Random House last fall, expressing interest in a book on the culinary trend of smoked meats. The company contacted him by virtue of his bizarre public persona -- Fleischman is a pitmaster who looks like a rock star.
"I kind of laughed about it," Fleischman says. "But I was curious enough. I had never received an email like that."
Fleischman quickly put together a writing sample. He wrote procedurally, walking the reader through each step of a recipe for smoked prime rib using rare meat with a crust of herbs.
"I'm not necessarily a technical writer," Fleischman says. "But writing a cookbook that could use my voice was something I was very concerned with."
"I didn't want it to be a Betty Crocker how-to," he says. "I wanted this to reflect my culinary perspective and kind of tell my story through the recipes."
Fleischman signed a contract and wrote his first book, Smoking Meat, in nine weeks. But the stories behind the recipes could warrant a second book.
The cover shot, for example, is of an elk strip loin. He also smoked an elk heart. The wild game recipes in the book came about through a dinner Fleischman coordinated in his home state of Wisconsin -- he needed to use people as test subjects for recipes he was developing. Fleishman wanted to smoke a moose for the book, but the publisher (understandably) didn't think the meat would be readily available to all readers.
He did, however, get to smoke a bear in Wisconsin. One night, a bartender recognized Fleischman and chatted him up. After overhearing him explain why he was in town, another customer offered him meat from a bear he'd recently shot. Fifteen minutes later he returned and set a black trash bag on the bar.
"It was full of freshly sealed pieces of black bear," Fleischman says.
The man only wanted a beer for seven pounds of meat and it was dollar beer night. Fleischman naturally smoked the meat and it was the talk of the party.
"Apparently I know what I'm doing"
In November, Fleischman was approached by BlackIron BBQ about endorsing and even doing research and development for a pit built to last. Unable to give them an answer until he tested the product, the company happily brought a pit to Fleischman's home on a trailer.
"I said drop that pit off and let me try to destroy it," Fleischman says.
He also asked for a large plasma cut sign that said "Shut the Fuck Up Please" -- which he quickly received -- and started trying to destroy the pit. In addition to fire, he used sledgehammers. Pleased with the durability of the product, he spent a couple of months helping the company tweak it. Once the prototypes were developed and the pit hit the market, Fleischman helped develop the El Guapo, his signature series smoker.
This summer, Fleishman decided he prefers to cater events under the name Blowin' Smoke and Tellin' Lies. He recently returned from Aspen after being invited by the National Pork Board to be part of the Food & Wine Classic, an annual event that brings together culinary experts from around the world.
Catering events for smaller crowds makes Fleischman's barbecue even better. Free of high volume worries about keeping things middle of the road, Fleischman now cooks like he would in his own backyard. The smoked meats pack a punch with heavy flavors of salt, pepper, and cayenne. The rub sits on the protein for at least a day.
When starting out, "I could not identify a brisket in the raw from a shoulder clod in the raw," Fleischman says. "I'm from Wisconsin. What do I know about barbecue? But as a cook, it's about time and temperature. "
"I came into this late in life," he says, "and apparently I know what I'm doing."
By Jeremy Hallock, Special Contributor