BY LINDSAY MYERS — Bill Coleman got into barbecue by accident — literally. In February 2003, Coleman was on his way to work at Home Depot when he was involved in a head-on collision that left him with a fractured left knee, hip, shoulder, and eye socket. Coleman’s recovery kept him on the couch for several months. “It was about the same time they started showing all that barbecue stuff on the Food Network,” said Coleman. “And I said to myself, ‘I grew up on this stuff; they’re not doing anything special.’”
Coleman started experimenting with different sauces and rubs, perfecting an original recipe after six months of tinkering with ingredients. When he was ready to return to work, he bought a small smoker and started cooking for his co-workers “just to keep myself busy,” he said. But the barbecue was good, really good, and business took off. His district manager at Home Depot asked him to cater a meeting, and within two months, Coleman was an official vendor for Home Depot — booked solid for staff events, like holiday parties and regional management meetings. In 2007, Coleman left his job at Home Depot to cater barbecue full time. “I told my boss, I’ve got to give this a shot. I’ll hate myself if I don’t try it,” said Coleman.
Cooking barbecue has taken Coleman up and down the East Coast, but some of his most memorable jobs have been local. In 2004, a family connection arranged for Coleman to cater the staff Christmas party at the White House. On the day of the party, Coleman pulled his smoker up to the east wing kitchen door when first lady Laura Bush walked by. She stopped to chat and, as Coleman tells the story, “she said, ‘you know there’s somebody here at the house who likes barbecue.’ and I said, ‘yes ma’am, I’m hoping you might go back upstairs and tell your husband I’m down here.’” The president came down and liked Coleman’s spread so much that he hired him for the next four years, even flying his barbecue on Marine One to Camp David when he had to miss the party one year.
In addition to the usual fare — pulled pork, brisket, ribs — “Barbecue Bill” has recently started incorporating Japanese elements into his menu. Coleman lived in Japan intermittently for nine years and met his wife there in 1986. One of his most recent menu additions, shrimp yakitori, has a little kick to it. “Nothing overpowering,” says Coleman, “but it lingers on your lips.” The shrimp marinates for several hours in a mixture of soy sauce, olive oil, and yuzu kosho, a Japanese seasoning made from chili peppers and the peel of a yuzu fruit. It’s then grilled over a special type of charcoal that smolders at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. “You’ve gotta change up every once in awhile,” said Coleman. “When I first started selling the yakitori, [it] took a while for people to understand what it was, but then it started moving real quick.”
Coleman said his favorite part of cooking is making people happy and bringing them together. “The money’s good, but I don’t do it for the money. You can make money doing anything. I do it for when people say it’s the best barbecue they’ve ever had. And food brings people together. That’s the cool thing. It’s one of the few things everyone has in common; they like going out to eat and chatting.”
If the weather is good, Coleman parks the smoker at the Downtown College Park Farmers Market at 4500 Knox Road every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., April through November. For menu updates and more information find him on Facebook at Bill’s Backyard BBQ.