I'm sure most people reading this know all about Franklin Barbecue and how it was recently named the best BBQ restaurant in America by bon appétit. Would you believe there are people right here in Austin that still have not even heard of its existence? I know, I know... crazy! But I am friends with some of them, and I can assure you they are fine people despite the fact that they don't get all fired up about the hottest darlings of the Austin food scene (which, these days are gaining reputations that are not just limited to Austin). And I will confess, as much as I get wrapped up in the excitement (Foreign and Domestic!!! Now, Barley Swine!!!) and believe those restaurants are deserving of the hype, I get a little weirded out sometimes by the whole phenomenon (and my eager participation in it). BUT... and I can't think of an exception to this so far, like I said those places are deserving of the attention that has been lavished upon them... and Franklin Barbecue is no different.
I have had the pleasure of eating Aaron Franklin's barbecue once before, but it was at a friend's house who did the dirty work of standing in line. I hadn't yet had the full Franklin experience in person, so when I had my birthday recently, I decided to indulge myself, take the day off, and do just that.
I showed up at 9:30. I was the first person there...but only for about 15 minutes, and then a steady stream of people began arriving. At first, everyone was just sitting willy-nilly around the picnic tables on Franklin's shaded deck. Then about 10:15, the group suddenly and swiftly and completely respectfully organized itself into an actual line, with people being extra careful to get into the same order in which they had arrived. I have to say, while I was born with a lot of idealistic zeal in my bones, I've got a bit of a cynical streak these days too. The display of friendly and surprisingly efficient community caught me somewhat off-guard, but in a really good way. It was so lovely to see that side of the coin (and on my birthday!). Good BBQ inspires goodwill... I have witnessed it.
|The line was still going strong when I left at 11:40 and stretched all the way down the parking lot.|
I lucked out and the triple digit temps we'd been having decided to take a break (in my honor? Why thank you so much, Weather, you are awfully sweet), so my one and a half hours of waiting in line ended up being really pleasant... consisting of me reading my book, chatting with the guy in line behind me, and marveling at how nice it was to not be cooped up in an office building on a week-day.
At 11:00 on the dot, one of the guys that worked there looked at me through the window of the entry door, gave me a big smile and two thumbs up, and unlocked the door. Feeling totally giddy like I was on a first date, I ambled up to the counter and order a 3-meat plate (let it be known I am not one of those girls who is afraid to eat on a first date). I had no expectation of being able to finish all of that in one sitting, but man, after standing in line that long, like I wasn't gonna sample as much as I could and have enough left to take home with me as well.
Now, I am not one to engage in the great BBQ debates. I like what I like and if I do it's going in my mouth. I have my favorites at a variety of BBQ joints, and I have yet to find THE PLACE that is the total package. While there is certainly a quality scale, every place has their specialty and most places have something they tend to neglect a bit. Personal preference plays into as well too... I diverge from the state mantra that brisket is king. For me sausage reigns (I have already waxed on about that in this blog), and after that I tend to go for pork (ribs or a good chop). Beef in general tends to be lower on my list of preferred meat, so none of this is really surprising, but in all honesty, too many briskets are just dry... or lacking in flavor... or inconsistently prepared. It's because of this that I actually consider myself to be a good measure for whether or not Franklin lives up to the hype, and it does without question.
Let's take a closer look at that meat, shall we?
There's my beloved sausage (great!), the pork ribs (perfectly falling off the bone and amazingly flavorful), and beneath both is a massive slab of brisket. Being first in line ensured me the best cut of the day, I refuse to believe otherwise. I watched as a giant slab of smoked meat was pulled onto the cutting board, and the knife quickly but determinedly hovered over it until just the right spot was located... and the first slice was made. The care that goes into tending a piece of meat for that long (18 hours apparently, and it's not a throw it on and walk away kind of thing either) really comes through. It really is a superbly impressive bit of barbecuing, and by my measure—for those who enjoy the debates more than I do—yes, it's better than all the Lockhart brisket combined (which is saying something because they are pretty great). It was the polar opposite of dry, lacking in flavor, and inconsistently prepared, and definitely worth standing in line for.
|chopped brisket, pickles, onions, and espresso BBQ sauce (love it) on white bread... eat it like a taco!|
The pork ribs were still my favorite though. They were just... well, I know I'm partial to pork ribs, but you just gotta eat some.
I am going to go out on a limb and say that I still have not found THE PLACE that is the total package. I can hear the pshaws and see the rolling eyes when I say this, but I want as much love put into the sides as goes into the meat. I will debate the fact that great BBQ is about sides as well as the meat... I will arm wrestle over it in fact. It's the same way that a great Thanksgiving meal is about not just the turkey but everything that goes onto the table. The beans, slaw, and potato salad are good, but typical. They did not make me wiggle in my seat with excitement and yes, I have in more than one instance wiggled with excitement over such things. The total package.
That aside, it is a top-rate BBQ place—I can't speak to whether or not it's the best in America, as I have not eaten at all the great BBQ joints in America—but for the meat, it's got my vote.
Late addendum 1/4/12: Check out Texas Monthly's interview with Franklin about their BBQ techniques, here.