Fascination with Texas BBQ

If you’re just looking to start a fight, casually bring up the topic of BBQ in a crowd of Texans. Lean back and wait for it. The legendary stories will start. Barbecue isn’t a food. It’s a culture, one lived with a passion and commitment rare even in culinary circles. When you’ve spent your whole life eating good Texas barbecue and defending your favorite joint like Travis at the Alamo, you don’t expect to cheat on your favorite pitmaster. Well, you haven’t been to Franklin Barbecue in Austin.

I’ve driven by Franklin’s a couple of times and tried to get one of my TXTALES buddies to go in with me. All I heard were complaints about the length of the line and the very real chance that if you’re at the tail end, you’ll be there three hours and maybe not get anything to eat. Franklin’s sells out every day by about 1:15, which is why people are standing outside at 10 a.m. (Patrons have been known to hire placeholders on Craig’s list and pay them in brisket.)

My personal experience with barbecue followed the classic Fort Worth trajectory. It all started with Angelo’s, which created the perfect trifecta — great barbecue, lots of girls on Thursday nights, and massive schooners. Then, in the late Eighties, the Railhead opened shop. They permanently borrowed one of the guys from Angelo’s, which split the local BBQ crowd, but ultimately the two places brought more attention to the area.

Not too long after my Austin drive-by, Anthony Bourdain headlined Franklin Barbecue on his show. Noticed Aaron Franklin showed up as a judge on Pitmaster and Food and Wine named Franklin’s Best BBQ in America. That did it. These folks were elevating Texas barbecue to the national level. I had to find out exactly why Franklin’s was getting so much attention.

Franklin Barbecue has just been around since 2009. It’s an amazing story. A husband and wife team set up a trailer behind a friend’s coffee roastery and start selling brisket. The next thing you know, there’s a line around the block and in 2011 they move to a brick and mortar restaurant. Why are people crazy about this place? Aaron Franklin treats his meat right. He’s up every day at 3:30 tending his all oak fire. He doesn’t use anything but salt and pepper on his Meyer Angus beef raised in Montana. (No growth hormones, no antibiotics.)

His brisket cooks slow, eighteen hours at 250 to 270 degrees. This is authentic Central Texas barbecue so tender the knife in Franklin’s hand slides through revealing a good inch of pure pink smoke ring. Do yourself a favor and get a little lean and a little fat. Both are cooked to absolute perfection.

Is the line worth it? You bet it is. When you’re standing there at 11, remember that Aaron has already put in eight hours, knocked back a few espressos, checked his email, and lovingly stoked the fire in his smoker.