Franklin Barbecue - Austin Texas
John Favreau’s food truck odyssey across the southern US in the 2014 hit film CHEF, sparked an obsession within me. The movie was a favorite among my culinary colleagues. In the film, Chef Carl Casper, (Favreau), his sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo), and ten-year-old son Percy, (Emjay Anthony), stop in Austin, Texas. They meet Aaron Franklin (played by himself) at his namesake restaurant. They savor Franklin’s highest standard setting beef brisket.
I was mesmerized as Aaron pulled a brisket from the smoker, the lingering smoke and the peppery aroma from the dark and crusty briskets practically wafted into my livingroom. The heavenly juiciness and deep smoke ring were revealed when they took the first slices. I have been in pursuit of perfectly smoked meats, particularly beef brisket, pork ribs, and pulled pork since first seeing this revelatory movie.
8:00 a.m. the line was already forming
I came to smoking meat late in my career. I have been baking professionally since 1982. I earned my degree from the Culinary Institute of America and have taught baking and pastry at the college level for over twenty years.
Glenn Dunlap, founder of Big League Tours: https://www.bigleaguetours.com and Peerview Data:https://www.peerviewdata.com, was my travelling companion. Glenn is a fellow foodie and BBQ-phile. We are great friends and share a deep interest in masterfully prepared food of all types. We have an endless appetite for travel. If you love baseball, I would highly recommend trying one of BLT’s tours.
Freshly milled 100% whole spelt flour, sourdough batard - my home kitchen
Artisan bread is my passion. Science and art are married in baking crusty sourdough loaves. Likewise, scientific precision and artisanal nuance are essential to mastering cooking with smoke. Smoking requires an understanding of the quality of the raw meat, how to trim it properly for even cooking and deep smoke penetration. The meat needs to be properly seasoned. The fire has to be meticulously controlled. Cooking low and slow, maintaining an even, arguably, 200°F for twelve to sixteen hours requires commitment. Both bread baking and smoking meat require time. It is a matter of controlling the factors then trusting the process. Clearly, Aaron Franklin understands the process and has built a thriving business. He has earned the right to be called master.
From coast to coast, there are excellent barbecue restaurants, golden nuggets to be mined. There are whole hog pits of the Carolinas and southeastern seaboard. Parts of Tennessee favor sliced pork shoulder. Kansas City is famous for its burnt ends and richly glazed pork ribs. Texas and New Mexico pride themselves on beef brisket and ribs. Some favor dry rubs while others use wet.
There is endless debate about whether or not smoked meats should be eaten with sauce. There are strong regional traditions. Sauce types vary regionally. They range from sweet and spicy to mustardy and vinegary. Alabama is famous for its mayonnaise-based sauce. All are delicious. For the record, although I prefer not to sauce, I will always follow the regional convention and love it.
For more information: https://www.tastingtable.com/695400/styles-american-bbq-barbecue/
Glenn and I went to Austin, for ONE REASON: Franklin Barbecue. Our friends were a bit incredulous when we told them our plan. People we met in Austin also questioned our sanity. Apparently, unless it is a special occasion, no self-respecting Texan would wait in line for over two hours for BBQ, no matter how good its reputation. Even after waiting outside Franklin from early morning until they open at 11:00 a.m., they may sell out of food before you get your order in.
Hold on for a minute. People do crazier things. Millions of people wait in line, sometimes for hours for a screaming roller coaster ride. The average duration of thrill rides is 112 seconds. At the end of our wait was a leisurely and sumptuous feast. Upon our return to Indianapolis, many of our scoffing friends, after hearing our raves, asked if they could join us the next time we make a similar pilgrimage. Of course, let's get planning our next trip!
A Bit Of Food and Travel Philosophy
Austin has many excellent BBQ and other dining options. It pays to ask questions, listen, and trust. Immediately after landing in Austin we were peppered with advice. Lyft drivers, concierges, and local folks suggested their favorite smokehouses, and I hope to try many of them the next trip to Austin. We took some advice for our first meal in Austin and tried Loro. (Loro is an Asian smokehouse and bar brought to you by James Beard Award winners, Chef Tyson Cole of Uchi and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue). It is exceptional. More on that in another post.
This brings up a good point about travel and adventure. If you want to experience the extraordinary, you have to be willing to take what comes your way. The morning of the big day dawned. We had our doubts. We wavered. It was already 8:00 am and the line at Franklin may have been too long to get food. Would it really be worth the effort? Would the brisket live up to the idealized vision in our heads? I have a motto: I would rather kick myself for going all in and being disappointed than kick myself for missing something which may be fabulous. A little risk often leads to great reward.
We were determined to get brisket at Franklin Barbecue. We steeled ourselves and went. When we arrived, the unmistakable aroma of burning post-oak logs was in the crisp air. As expected, the line was already forming. Folks had been there for an hour or more before we got there. But there were fewer than fifty people ahead of us. Things were looking promising. Despite the clear sky it was cool. The building blocked the sun. I would recommend taking a jacket in the spring, unless you know it is going to be particularly warm early in the day.
Making the best of the wait
There was a bit of a carnival atmosphere. It was like lining up to see a favorite performer. Everyone was in a great mood. We were among people of like mind. People were friendly and excited. We were able to grab a seat at a picnic table At the next table was a group of gamers, passing the time playing some card game I didn’t really understand, even after they explained it to me.
Glenn with our new friends Megena and Ben
We soon invited Megena and Ben, who were visiting from Miami to join us. They were a lovely couple who shared our interests in food and travel. The time flew by as we chatted and took turns going down the street for coffee. About thirty minutes before opening time, we were cued up along the restaurant wall. A “here we go” feeling came over the crowd. A staff member came out and tallied our orders on a piece of worn cardboard. I think she was trying to gauge approximately how far the food would go before it ran out. The door was opened for guests to use the restroom, purchase merchandise (I bought a hoodie) and more importantly beer. We had to try Lone Star. My preference is for something a bit more robust, but it hit the spot.
We are about to dig in
The Moment Of Truth
It was our turn to order. We watched as the beautifully dark crusted brisket was sliced and placed on the butcher papered platter. It was so juicy. I was reliving the scene in the movie. In addition to the brisket, we ordered pork ribs and two types of smoked sausages. We shared a table with Megena and Ben. All of us were overwhelmed with the perfection of each of the meats. I hate to think that we could have missed out on this extraordinary experience, eating indescribably great food and making new friends. It was worth the wait.
Franklin is open Tuesday - Sunday 11 a.m. until sellout. Their website is: https://franklinbbq.com
Smoked beef brisket, pork ribs, jalapeño and regular smoked sausages, and fixings. Yes, it taste as good as it looks!
In the smokehouse
Lagniappe - A Little Something Extra
We were full, satisfied, and very happy, when Glenn met a fellow who invited us to join his family for a look around the smokehouse, home to five massive smokers with fireboxes glowing. They were converted from large propane tanks. At last count, Franklin smokes about 1800 pounds of brisket a day. At an average weight of 13 pounds, or around 140 briskets. In addition, they smoke ribs and sausages as soon as the briskets come off. Everything has to be ready by 11:00 a.m., and the pace is non-stop. They are closed Mondays. One day a week in which the smokers are scrubbed and re-seasoned. It is a 24 hour a day operation. Aaron Franklin’s interview with Andrew Zimmer, fills in some details: https://andrewzimmern.com/5-questions-aaron-franklin/
In his element
A Last Word
Because of Covid-19, this is an era of complicated travel, especially international travel. My hope is to return to many other parts of the world to continue meeting new people and learning about excellent cuisines. Now however is a great time to explore the myriad regional food and cultural experiences here in the US. I could not have been more impressed with our experiences in Austin. It is a vibrant and beautiful city and Franklin Barbeque is a great culinary representative.
There will be more on food and cultural experiences in subsequent posts. I am committed to supporting all who work hard and with integrity to turn out real food, of the highest quality, and do it with gracious hospitality. My hope is that you will join me and my friends on the journey.