Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Franklin Barbecue

AUSTIN: Franklin Barbecue
900 E 11th St

Austin, TX 78702
Open Tues-Sun 11-meat runs out


Update: The music was blaring and my regard for the speed limit was waning. I'd just finished a hearty breakfast of brisket and brisket at Snow's in Lexington, and I was racing time to get a spot in line at Franklin Barbecue on a Saturday morning. I'd heard from the Twitterverse that lines were still sane one hour before opening at 10:00 am, but I hadn't factored in the start of another semester at UT. Hungry folks had already filled the entry ramp and the line was slinking down the parking area to a spot beyond the building when I arrived at 10:15. I couldn't count how many were in front of me, but when Aaron Franklin spotted me in line and came over to chat, he said that I didn't want to know the truth about when I'd probably eat. A nice girl came through the line asking for orders, but only to estimate how long the food would last. At opening time there were probably seventy people behind me. Some of them would get the bad news that the meat wouldn't hold out that long and had to leave. Just before noon I made it inside the door just after watching a few disappointed carloads pull up to be met with the infamous "SOLD OUT" sign. They had not been informed of the dedication required to get a taste of this meat made famous all over the country by the likes of the New York Times, the San Francisco Gate and Bon Appetit.

Over 100 degrees outside

About 90 degrees inside

I was meeting a Swedish photographer interested in Texas BBQ, but I'm not sure if he knew what he was in for in regards to the line or the food, but the black jeans and boots coupled with the look on his face after the first bite told me 'no' on both counts.

Aaron Franklin, owner and pitmaster

Finally at the counter at 12:25, owner and pitmaster Aaron Franklin was a busy man wielding a large knife. I won't pretend that I was there unnoticed. Aaron and I know each other well after running into one another at various BBQ events and many visits to his old trailer up the road. My friend, on the other hand, was a new face so he suggested we get a taste of everything. I agreed and made a special request for a thick end cut from the coal black brisket.

Photo by C.C Ekström

A few slices of both fatty and lean brisket were included along with a thick pork rib, a juicy sausage link and a generous helping of pulled pork. We downed a few fist fulls of the moist pork that is truly pulled from whole shoulders. The meat has a subtle smoke with great seasoning and a splash of vinegar sauce just before serving to finish it. Thick pork spare ribs are much more aggressively seasoned with black pepper and smoke. The meat came easily from the bone, and it is incredible moist from all that perfectly rendered fat. The sausage isn't house made, but made especially for Franklin to their owns specifications. The links had great snap, were nicely moist and had great beefy flavor.

Photo by C.C Ekström

After plowing through the other meat selections, it was time for the highlight of the visit and the best brisket in Texas. As my Swedish friend reached for the brisket slices, I stopped him short in order to taste a chunk of the burnt end. His eyes had the look of a smoked meat epiphany, and I too was enjoying a moment across the table. The luscious fat, the thick smoky crust, the black pepper and the tender beef made for one perfect bite of smoked brisket. The slices, while a bit less potent, were no less incredible and truly worth the wait.

Photo by C.C Ekström

As I left I wondered if I would brave that line again. I passed that old trailer now on display and remembered a time where my group sat alone in that old gravel lot enjoying some fine brisket. Hopefully that new behemoth smoker really does cut down on that line.

Already garnering the highest rating on this blog, I found no reason to cut their score even with the new location. Aaron Franklin, it seems, can do no wrong with a smoker.

Rating ****** (still 6)

2010: Just before the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival, I met up with John Morthland at Franklin Barbecue to talk BBQ, and get some breakfast. I knew I'd be stuffing myself silly in an hour or so, but I can't rightly pass a chance to get some of Aaron Franklin's brisket when I'm mere minutes away. A line had already formed 15 minutes before opening on Sunday morning, but the line moved quickly once the gate was slid open. With two combo plates between us, John and were able to sample all four meats.

Just watching the brisket being cut here is like having a preview bite. I've seen so many sad looking slices of smoked beef, that I can already tell it's going to taste bad. On the other side of the spectrum, with the smell and the dripping juices, I felt like I could taste this stuff just because it looks so damn good. Thankfully I got a real live taste, and it was glorious. The fat at the end of the thick slice had melted into the peppery rub to create and airy, juicy, salty flavor bomb of a bite. Every bite thereafter was perfectly smokey and silky tender with plenty of rendered fat to keep things well lubed.

Aaron is no less talented with his pork. The salt and pepper rub on each rib acts as the natural compliment to the smokiness that permeates the meat. The ribs are well cooked with a level of tenderness that finds the right balance where just a slight tug is required to release meat cleanly from bone. Pulled pork has even more intense flavor. A mixture of pork, fat, crust and a finishing sauce create the right balance of flavors. It's moist without being soggy, and has just the right touch on the seasoning. I kept shoveling fork fulls even after I'd determined to save room for the meat coming at the Festival.

The sausage is made by the Texas Sausage Company in Austin. After trying dozens of homemade sausages in the area, this one had a flavor I just couldn't pin down. The juiciness gave away the high level of pork, and the flavor of beef was evident, but there was a richness that I could only equate to organ meat (I guessed liver). Aaron Franklin confirmed in an email conversation that he has them add some beef heart in there for the added twist. This surely doesn't please every palate, but I find this bold move a good way to make a personal mark on the local sausage scene. Aaron also mentioned he's still not satisfied with the grind, and they're trying to work out that final kink. Still tweaking in pursuit of ultimate perfection.

Over at the Festival, John and I tried and tried to find a sample that matched the quality at Franklin. I know they were all cooking remotely at the Long Center, but even the best of the best in Texas could not surpass what that little trailer can put out, and it's that good on every visit. Based on such high quality and dogged consistency, this is nothing short of the best brisket in Texas.

With all the success, and the growing lines, I had to ask when the expansion is coming. Aaron's quick response was "Actually, I'm welding on the new smoker right now...should be ready next week....and we are planning on being in a building by the end of the year! That trailer was great way to start but has really become a limiting factor....I can't wait to make things bigger, better, easier and more consistent..." Now that's what a dedicated pitmaster does on his day off, but I'm not sure there's much room for improvement.

03/2010: Just before the Gettin' Sauced event, I stopped in again at Franklin Barbecue to try the ribs and pulled pork. I knew the brisket was stellar from previous visits (I stole a bite or two from the Patron Saint on this trip too), so I wanted to check on the other meats.

The ribs were just as good as the first visit. A well formed bark was covered with a rub heavy in black pepper. The meat came easily from the bone with just a little tooth tug, and the flavor was incredible. The pulled pork equaled the ribs in flavor. The mixture of moist fat, smoky bark and tender meat came together for a taste explosion. This was some of the best pork I've eaten. It seems there's nothing Aaron Franklin hasn't mastered.

01/2010: I stopped in at Franklin BBQ on my way back from San Antonio one Sunday morning about a month ago. I'm just now getting to write about it, but the flavor of that brisket lingers in my mind still. It was 10:45 when I stepped up to the locked chain link gate and Aaron, the owner, was arranging picnic tables in the front getting ready for his 11:00 opening bell. I sat there like a sad puppy dog until he unlocked the gate and happily invited me in for a few slices off the brisket he was just pulling from the pit.

We chatted for a bit as he unwrapped and sliced the meat, but I cut the conversation short knowing he had to get back to work, and I had to have some alone time with this beautiful beef in my front seat (too cold for picnic tables). I took a few bites, and the flavor was incredible. I had ordered the fatty cut on my previous visit, but lean cuts are more suited for brunch. The heavy black pepper rub helped create a crispy crust on the meat that also packed a wallop of smoke. Although this was lean brisket, the meat was incredibly moist and perfectly tender. After a few luxurious slices, I wrapped it back up and headed out onto I-35 back to Dallas.

As the radio played, I contemplated if this was the finest brisket that I've ever eaten as it called to me beneath the thin, greasy, and now transparent yellow paper. As I eyed the interstate with one eye, the other was watching as I carefully unwrapped the meat for another go. As the salty flesh passed my lips, I realized how an appropriate song can add so much to a special moment.

Now there are songs with a manufactured timeliness like playing Brad Paisley's "Alcohol" during an all night kegger. Of course it fits when everyone's already consuming the title. But then there's the true timeliness of a song like when you've suffered through years of mediocre smoked beef and you're driving in the car and a perfect sugar cookie from a perfect slice of brisket melts on your tongue, and as it traces down your throat you hear Eddie Money shout "I think I'm in love!" That's timeliness.

01/2010: It's been a while since I've found an honest "sugar cookie" on my brisket, but as I waited for my order to be filled, owner and pitmaster Aaron Franklin handed me a preview morsel from the fatty end of the brisket and the flavor was transcendent. If I lived in Austin, I would go here everyday if I could be guaranteed a bite like that one.

The other exciting part about this visit was that it became the first official joint review for FCGBBQ and the boys over at Man Up Texas BBQ. Drew and Brad met me in the cold weather to dine alfresco, but our hearts were soon warmed by some excellent smoked meat.

Brisket can be ordered fatty or lean, so we tried both. The fatty brisket had lots of beautifully rendered fat throughout the meat, and nearly melted in the mouth. The smokiness along with the great flavor from the rub created nearly perfect slices...just nearly perfect because the lean slices were the definition of perfection. Each slice had an great crust, a beautiful smokering and a nice morsel of buttery fat clinging to the meat.

A heavy salt and black pepper covered the large spare ribs. Each rib had not a speck of unrendered fat, and the meat pulled from the bone with just a slight tug from the teeth. The texture of the meat was great, but it was bettered by the intense flavor.

Side items included a good potato salad very heavy on the mustard, and some fairly bland pintos. A bourbon banana pudding put a fitting cap on the meal, as Aaron passed out large free samples to the group. Afterward, he showed us his pit enclosed in the sheet metal shed. He brought the pit over from John Mueller's old place on Manor Road, where he got his introduction into BBQ.

Aaron spent a few years perfecting his craft while smoking in the backyard until the crowds that gathered started to outgrow his space. At that point he knew it was the right time to open up a place of his own. Lucky for us.

Franklin   Barbecue on Urbanspoon


BBQ Snob said...

Sorry to the lost commenters. I had to repost this one because of a Blogger error, so I lost the comments. Please discuss.

BlackDogBBQ said...

Wow 6 stars, very impressive there, cant wait to check this place out during my next trip to austin.
Nice work guys.

Anonymous said...

Franklin's is excellent. I checked them out last time I was in Austin. He could compete with Lockhart and Luling any day.

Anonymous said...

I thought the brisket was world class but the ribs were so so. Maybe they have improved on the ribs....gonna have to go back soon to find out.

Anonymous said...

WOW, I have read almost all your reviews and if memory serves me, this is your FIRST??? 6 star review. Sounds like an awesome place.

BBQ Snob said...

Yes, this is the very first six star review. Franklin has been perfect or near perfect in every category on four different visits. Five star joints are some of the best BBQ I've eaten, but sustained and consistent excellence are required for the elusive sixth star.

Unknown said...

Franklin deserves the first six-star rating. Fantastic barbecue, and Aaron Franklin is incredibly gracious every time my girlfriend and I make the trip down from Dallas to eat there.

Thank you so much for letting BBQ fans like me know about Franklin Barbecue's greatness!

chef salas said...

I have been to many different BBQ joints across texas. And I would have to say that Franklin deserves your first 6 star rating. Aaron does an amazing job and the rest of the guys just love what they do. I can't wait for my next visit to Franklin's monstra

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all your hard work and research shared with us on your blog! I had the pleasure of trying Franklins last Friday for the first time. The brisket was devine. I won't try to describe it as you've done that so well, but just thinking about it has my mouth watering and my mind wondering how I can find another excuse to get to Austin quickly! The pork ribs were awesome as well,but the brisket is the stuff of dreams for bbq lovers!

Unknown said...

Went to Franklin with the family last week on their last day open for 2010. Got 3 lbs. brisket, one lb. each of ribs, sausage, and pulled pork, and a quart of beans. The pork seemed more like meat spaghetti and was less than spectacular, while the sausage was good but not Southside quality. I generally don't go for pork ribs, but these were very good.

The brisket, on the other hand, was outstanding to the point that words cannot possibly begin describe its greatness. All four of us agreed that it was absolutely the best meat of any kind that we had ever experienced (the word "eaten" doesn't do it honor). Others have described the fatty portion as "meat butter" - believe them. Lean, fatty, bark, seasoning, everything was mind-bogglingly incredible. The only thing I didn't like is that the place isn't within walking distance of my North Texas home, but then again I'd probably go bankrupt from visiting it every day if it was. ^_^

Kent said...

Aaron is moving... to the site of Ben's Long Branch BBQ on 11th street in a few weeks.

Unknown said...

Loved the review. Since i love smoked meat and really appreciate the reviews on this site, I decided to stop in Austin on a drive from Palm Springs, CA to Memphis, where I live part time. I landed at Franklin's yesterday at 5pm, my first meal in town and they were closed - sold out. Okay, that is fine. I get the idea and was actually more excited that they are that good. Today, I went around 2pm (they open at 11am) and again, sold out. This time, I had a negative reaction. I think that is not the way to operate a business. I understand that to sell out is great for business and actually not bad marketing but when you sell out after 3 hours, it tells me that they do not know the market and cannot order enough to stay open a reasonable amount of time. That, or they like selling out after 3 hours and that is most important to them. I guess I am both disappointed I was not able to enjoy the wonderful smoked meat but i think it would be smart to try to open for at least more than 3 hours so more people can enjoy the food.

Believe me, I really wanted to try the food and I trust that it is insanely good. I am just bummed I ended up at Stubbs where the food was assuredly not up to franklin's standards.

I will have to come back and get there at 11am so I can post again and eat crow...which I expect to do.

BBQ Snob said...

Sorry Lester, but the man can only smoke as much meat as his smoker will hold. He's trying to remedy this by opening up a larger joint down the street next month, so be patient.

Joel said...

You know how difficult it is to say something is the best you've ever had? There is always that hint of doubt in the back of your mind that if you say it out loud invariably it won't be true and your credibility will be shot. The exact opposite occurred at Franklin BBQ. It only took one bite of that amazing brisket/meat butter to confirm it was in fact the best brisket I had ever had. This place lives up to the hype and then overdelivers on it. 6 stars indeed.

Roland said...

have you been to the new place? I hope the quality was not affected.

BBQ Snob said...

I have. The nature of the trip didn't warrant a review (bachelor party hangover) but the brisket and pork were fantastic. I also got a few 2 day old slices from a friend a few days ago. I ate them cold and enjoyed every bite.

Anonymous said...

Aaron is adding a new smoker beginning this weekend (Sept. 10 2011). He is going to ramp up production over about a month to almost 2.5 times what he has now. He says the goal is to have enough food to be open until 6.

Anonymous said...

Got lunch at 1 on Sunday, which is nice if you are used to him selling out so early. Evidently there is some increased capacity at least (or decreased demand) to last until normal lunch hours.

That freaking brisket is incredible. I don't really enjoy his sausage but I can't tell if it is less than excellent or if it is just because it lives in the shadow that top notch brisket.

Andrew said...

Went there this past weekend and it was great. I wouldn't go so far to say that it is the best or their brisket is better than Snow's, but it is all very good. Worth the trip and also a 5 star rating, I just don't believe it is better than many of the other 5 star joints.

Marty C. said...

I'd agree that Franklin's is as great as any standout place that I've visited across the country: Jack Stacks in Kansas City, MO; Marlowe's in Memphis, TN; Mark's Feed Lot in Louisville, KY; Honey Bear's (Memphis-style) BBQ in Phoenix, AZ; and Carolina Brothers BBQ in Ashburn, VA.

Anonymous said...

I tried their brisket, burnt-ends and pork ribs but they're nowhere near Louie Mueller's? Out of the 5 lbs that we had, they're all consistent, but again, none exceed the ones at Louie Mueller.

The ones at La Barbecue (formerly JMueller @ South 1st St) are better and much closer to Louie Mueller's.

Maybe we caught Mr Franklin on a bad day?


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.