Elite Spotlight: James Greenleaf (@greenleaf.bbq)
Things haven’t always been easy for James Greenleaf, AKA @greenleaf.bbq. Fending for himself as a kid without the supervision of a parental figure, he craved more guidance and structure in life. After serving in the military, Greenleaf is now a family man who has fallen completely in love with all things BBQ.
Soon after discovering Instagram two years ago, Greenleaf filmed his first-ever rib cookoff, and it’s all been a learning journey from there. He sat down with Dalstrong to talk about his extreme sports roots, what career path he still wants to try out, and the one ingredient that makes him wince.
Tell me about your background.
Growing up, I lived on the streets, surviving. Parents are drug addicts. I wanted to be a cop, so I was a police explorer at age 15. I had a mentor, I had to go into the army or college to be a cop. Didn’t have the grades or money for college, so at 17 I went and I tried the army. I had a skateboarding injury, so I gave up on the military. It’s crazy, I’m a religious guy. God’s in control.
One night, I stabbed myself in the shin by accident. In the hospital, talking to the doc.I was supporting my sisters also, wasn’t into BBQ at that time. Surviving off of canned meat. Told the doc my story, told him I wanted to do three years in the military, come back and be a cop. My discharge had an envelope with a note that cleared me of all my stuff so I could join the military. Was on a bus a week later. Now I have my own family, a wife and three kids.
How did you get started with @greenleaf.bbq?
BBQ came into my life, BBQ shows. With all these people doing it, I thought “I can do that.” Three years ago, my wife bought me a Traeger and I just started. I didn’t know anything about social media, just having fun. My neighbor’s brother-in-law told me about Instagram two years ago, so we did a rib cookoff. Had no idea what it was. Started it that day and it's been a journey ever since. All these goals I’ve had, mistakes I’ve made.
I was selfish person, I didn’t have anything growing up. I get excited when I accomplish even the smallest goals. Having this big community has been so amazing, so supportive. I felt so inspired by others and now I get to pass that on. It’s all about the support, my mother passed away a year ago, grandmother last year. So much support on Instagram. Social media and BBQ are my family. No matter what, people have your back because you inspire them.
What’s your favorite new recipe discovery?
The biggest thing is that everyone just sees BBQ as just meat, and I’m getting out of my box and incorporating new things. Baking on the Traeger, Tanghulu glaze, some fun stuff. I get excited to try new things.
Love BBQ, brisket, and ribs. I never stop learning. Also inspiring other people. I just launched a new website to tell my story more, whatever platform I’m using, and go more into depth, posting the recipes with it.
What’s your best kitchen hack?
Just never giving up. You will fail, but if you don’t give up, you’ll get it. I did eggs benedict and kept failing. A lot of people give up too soon and don’t believe in themselves. Too worried about what others think. Do you and enjoy the ride.
What’s the one spice you secretly hate?
Jalapenos, red pepper flakes, or anything too spicy. I’m a big baby. If it burns my tongue, I won’t eat it.
Kitchen tool(s) you can’t live without :
My thermometer. I have ThermoWorks, Thermapen Mk4’s. I use my hands, but I need gloves. I have a Boning Knife, Slicer, and Chef’s Knife. All of them Omega series. My favorite features of Dalstrong knives are the quality, heavy-duty build, design, and an edge that holds. I’ve been on a team that didn’t stand behind the product. It rusted immediately and didn’t hold an edge.
Stand behind what you say and it is what you say it is. I set a goal to work with Dalstrong and worked to get there. And also to work with Traeger. It’s not about getting free stuff, it’s about supporting the companies who support me. Everything about Dalstrong has exceeded my expectations.
Who are your cooking heroes?
I don’t really have a single influencer. But I love Diva Q, all the Traeger guys. I would watch them and make it my own. I wanted to be like them and also being on Traeger’s team has boosted my confidence. Aaron Franklin is a big one. Salt Lick BBQ in south-central Texas, it’s bring your own beer, all you can eat.
If you could cook a meal for one person, who would it be?
Gordon Ramsay. I’d just love to hear his voice and hear how much crap he’d give me. I watch a lot of TV and spend a lot of time with my kids. It’s really just about food for me. Hell’s Kitchen all day. When I talked about getting out of my box, that’s his lane. Making dressings and bread from scratch.
What is the one dish that everyone seems to screw up?
Brisket. People have thousands of ways to do it, just perfect the craft. I’ve seen a lot of overdone briskets. You can’t really mess up pork shoulder, but you can mess up brisket. I think they worry too much about it, remember the little steps, that’s the biggest thing. They don’t have a plan going into it and worry about the outcome.
Wagyu brisket for the first time, I took a heavy-duty aluminum pan, took all the trimmings, put it on the bottom, home trim, fat cap down on top of all those. Cooked at 225 until the bark set. I do it until my bark is set and then I wrap it for the end. Just spritz it throughout, rest for two hours.
What is the mark of a great chef?
Their character and story. Who they are, where they came from. Everyone has a story. The way they cook is through their story. Their background and history that influenced them. Character is everything.
What would your last meal be?
Maybe a surf and turf. I did lobster tails for the first time the other day. A nice ribeye. A nice Red Bull on the side.
Stay up to date with James Greenleaf (@greenleaf.bbq)
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Written by Abby Slate
Born and raised in the South, Abby lives by three things: bacon goes in everything, all food can (and should) be deep fried, and hush puppies are religion.