After building a successful New York City advertising agency, Bill Fletcher sold his share to a partner to focus on establishing a “better work-life balance.” Apparently, work-life balance also includes mastering the art of slow-cooking various cuts of meat in the smoke of blistering maple and red oak logs.
With Fletcher’s, his newly opened barbecue restaurant in the white-hot Brooklyn food neighborhood known as Gowanus, the former ad man has partnered with one of the best in the business. Matt Fisher formerly ran the smokers at award-winning Wildwood and R.U.B (Righteous Urban Barbecue) before hooking up in 2012. We caught up with the pair to find out what went into the opening, and their stance on sauce. As in, is sauce even needed!?
Where did you travel to research, in advance of opening Fletchers?
Pitmaster Matt Fisher: I have eaten barbecue all over the country, with particular focus on Texas and Missouri. Of course, I have eaten all over the east coast and in all the great barbecue joints in New York City.
Owner Bill Fletcher: I eat barbecue everywhere I go. I did very little traveling specifically to open Fletcher’s. It was more of realizing a lifelong dream and teaming up with Matt to define what our flavor profiles were going to be right here in Brooklyn.
Do you have a favorite style of American barbecue?
Matt: I am partial to the balance of sweet, tangy, tart and spicy that’s associated with Kansas City barbecue. In general, I prefer barbecue that has just enough spice to keep me reaching for a beer!
Bill: Not unilaterally. I lean towards vinegar and pork, lightly glazed ribs, and smoky fatty brisket.
Who did you talk to in researching? Did you have a mentor?
Matt: I’ve learned something from everyone I ever cooked with and worked with. All of the fantastic pitmasters that carry on the tradition of low and slow barbecue daily. But these days, Robbie Richter and Robert Fernanez are the barbecue friends I turn to most for guidance and experience.
Bill: I talked to anyone who had experience in barbecue, restaurant management and construction. My good friend owns Baked in Red Hook and helped me tremendously when it came to core operational stuff. I spent a weekend with Mike and Amy Mills from 17th Street BBQ out in Murphysboro, Illinois to see how they run their empire. That experience helped to confirm that I could pull the whole thing off.
Are there any barbecue pilgrimage that you want to make?
Matt: I always wanted to go back to Kansas City and Hill Country in Texas, but look out Memphis, I’m coming for you next! Related: How To Survive A 10 Barbecue(Ish) Restaurant Crawl
Bill: Can I come to Memphis too?
What are some big lessons learned during the opening process?
Bill: There are very few people who know what they are talking about, and if you find someone who does, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to execute for you. So the lesson learned is this: do all of your own research, talk to as many people as possible, make your own plans, and hire people to execute those plans. Don’t expect an expert to actually be one.
Matt: Spend as much time researching your ingredients and suppliers as you possibly can. Give yourself options and always, always get references for your contractors.
What is your stance on barbecue sauce. Is it needed?
Bill: Ah, the age old question! To me, sauce is like salt: if the cook wanted it to have salt, it should already be on there. That said, there is always salt on the table, you know? I prefer to eat barbecue the way the cook intended it to be eaten. It bothers me when all I taste is sauce because good meat should have good flavor without any seasoning. I also want to taste smoke as one piece of the entire profile, and sometimes a heavy-handed approach when saucing barbecue can deaden those flavors.
Matt: Perfectly cooked meats don’t need (emphasis added!) sauce, but a good sauce can complement a well-cooked piece of meat, highlight some of its more subtle qualities or create a combination of tart, sweet, spicy and tangy that might not have occurred any other way. If you are gonna have a sauce, make it a good one!
433 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, NY