THE MAESTRO OF MEAT
NAME: The Maestro of Meat
PLACE: Franklin’s Barbecue
DATE OF VISIT: January 6th, 2018
WHAT: Best Brisket of my life
ADDRESS: 900 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702
CHEF: Aaron Franklin
WHAT TO EAT: The holy trinity - Beef Brisket, Pork spareribs, Sausage
OFF TO AUSTIN:
The Pig travels! Over the past four years, I have been on the road over one hundred and twenty weeks, and have eaten at well over a hundred BBQ joints from Atlanta to Kansas City. During that time I had never scratched the surface of Austin, the epicenter of Central Texas BBQ. This had to change. I found that I needed to be in Dallas, and with Austin being a mere four hours away, it became clear that a road trip was in my near future. All I needed to make it happen was good company and a ride. My friend Dave happens to live in Dallas and is easily talked into any adventure, check and check. So with Dave at the wheel, and Austin a few short hours away, it was off to Austin in search of great central Texas BBQ.
WE’LL START FIRST THING TOMORROW:
After 225 miles, three BBQ pit stops, eight beers, and one lost wallet episode (thanks to Dave), we pulled into the capital of Texas both bloated and happy. My top priority for this trip was to visit a relative newcomer to the scene called Franklin’s Barbecue. They have been around for less than ten years, which makes them a baby by Texas BBQ standards. Frankin’s is said to have the best brisket in America, and people flock from all corners of the world just to eat it. The plan was to get up early and be at Franklin’s first thing in the morning.
SO MUCH FOR GETTING THERE EARLY:
At seven the next morning, Dave and I met over a cup of what could only be described as hotel muddy water so that we could devise a strategy to get there by nine, and avoid the long line. That is two hours before opening, and seemed reasonable to the limited amount of caffine in my system. We pulled up to 11th Avenue at nine and saw that there were already a few people waiting in front of the teal blue building. As we got closer, we saw that the line wrapped around the corner and was much larger than just a few people. By the time we parked and made our way over, the line had grown and extended all the way down the block. So much for getting there early!
THE LINE EXPERIENCE:
The line was made up of small groups sitting in lawn chairs, playing cards, and drinking beer. It felt more like a crowd waiting for a college football game than for BBQ. Franklin’s has a little corral of folding chairs for their customers to use to make their time on line more comfortable. I grabbed a few loaners from the corral and we set up camp at the end of the already impossibly long line. Dave went on a little recon mission and came back with a few pieces of information. First was that the head person in line was from Minnesota and had arrived at 6:30AM. Second was that the line in front of us was already 98 people long. After dispensing these two nuggets Dave disappeared again, but this time he returned with a cooler. Dave proudly opened the cooler and revealed a six pack of lone star beers. This is exactly why I bring this guy. Beers open and us settled into our borrowed chairs, our conversation turned to our previous explorations, and to meeting other people that were in line with us. This included a couple from Japan that had flown in just for the brisket. As it is with many of these experiences, it is as much the shared experience of the line as the food itself.
A PEEK BEHIND THE CURTAIN:
Now that Dave had a beer and some new friends, it was his turn to hold our spot while I explored. I like to walk around the back end of restaurants to see what I can learn. I usually glance at the smokers, check out the flow of the kitchen, and see what clues to their world are lying around. That day I got lucky! As I was peeking around the back I ran into one of Franklin’s pit masters Andy Risner. We talked barbeque for about thirty minutes. We discussed the importance of using an aged post oak wood, the quality of the meat, the effects of time and temperature during the cook. We talked about most everything that makes this an art, with meat being the medium. I was able to peek in the smokers, check out the fire box, and talk about the Holy Trinity of Central Texas BBQ (brisket, ribs, and sausage). I learned that they smoke their world-famous briskets for over 12 hours, and pay great attention to both the fire and set up of their custom-built smokers. I was fully in heaven. It was a true and rare pleasure to see behind the scenes of a BBQ destination such as Franklin’s.
WE’RE IN THE DOOR:
By the time I reluctantly made my way back, the line had doubled in size, but was finally starting to move. Franklin’s opens at eleven, and despite arriving at nine we did not reach the door until noon. Once inside there is a high level of energy, loud talk, and anticipation from those still in line. There is also what I can only describe as an excited bliss from those lucky enough to already be eating. The dining room is made up of mismatched tables and red vinyl upholstered chairs. Seats are at a premium and revolve quickly. At this point I was just happy to be through the door and seeing the finish line ahead.
In traditional Texas BBQ style, Franklin’s BBQ is cafeteria style. You walk along the counter, tell the meat handler what you want, how much of it, and they will slice it up right in front of you. When it was finally my turn, I was greeted by my new friend Andy the pitmaster. He was also the acting meat handler that day. A meat handlers role is to slice and weigh your order and build your tray. He thankfully remembered me, and graciously tossed me a sample of a burnt end to try. The juicy chunk glistened as I threw it in my mouth without any hesitation. So as for the first bite of brisket? It was FUCKING AMAZING. I try not to swear too often, but this is the best fucking brisket I have tried, anywhere. Over the past four years I have eaten at well over one hundred BBQ joints all over this great country, and this brisket is no doubt the best of all of them. It is juicy, packed with smoky flavor, and tender. The fat is succulent black bark that delivers the flavor in such a masterful way that it almost demands that strong of a word. I was lost in the moment, and could only think of how amazing it truly was. My mind was floating in a grease induced bliss when suddenly I was pulled back into reality at the counter. My new friend Andy had apparently asked us what we want, more than once, given the expression on his face.
As usual my eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I ordered half the menu. Andy threw the meat around the cutting board with the comfort and confidence of a man who has sliced thousands of orders. He took a blue plastic cafeteria tray covered with butcher paper and built a masterpiece of a meal on it. Generous slabs of the black brisket were cut with such ease that they looked like they could have been sliced with a fork. Piled next to it were slices of smoked turkey breast, sausage links, pork ribs, cheap white bread, pinto beans, slaw, and potato salad. Andy then slid it down to the cash register where I finished the transaction.
MEAT INDUCED EATING FRENZY:
It was now one pm, almost four hours since I got out of the car all groggy. Franklin’s was in full swing and I finally had the prized tray of meat in my hands. We saw a group get up from a table and quickly slammed our tray down like a settlers claiming land. What came next may be best compared to zombies from the Walking Dead feasting on fresh brains. We descended on that tray, hands grabbing and tearing meat apart, juices all over our faces, grunting a warning if someone came too close, and a few small fights over the last piece of sausage or brisket as we scoured the tray. A few short minutes later, breathing heavily, we came out of our feeding frenzy to see the empty grease and bone filled tray before us. I made a quick survey to see if Dave had bit anyone who might have gotten too close. Thankfully, the coast was clear. No one seemed to be paying much attention to us. Maybe we didn’t make of asses out of ourselves while eating like mad men.
NO SAUCE REQUIRED:
We all have ah ha moments, and when it comes to Central Texas barbecue and it’s dislike of sauce, Franklin’s was that for me. Until now I didn’t understand why Texas pit masters looked shamefully on you if you asked for sauce. I mean BBQ sauce is sweet, spicy, and delicious. Why wouldn’t you want to put some on brisket? But this meat was so juicy, flavorful, and tender that it would be a shame not to try it on its own first. Franklin’s does have BBQ bottles on the table for their customers. I only opened them to taste the sauce, never once thinking to put a drop on the meat as I was devouring it.
MAESTRO OF MEAT:
I know it sounds all too easy to jump on the bandwagon and call Franklin’s the best, but I can tell you this... Over the past four years I have eaten at over one hundred BBQ joints across this country, and Franklin’s was hands down the best. It took a three hour flight, a four hour road trip, multiple beers, a lost wallet episode (again, thanks Dave), and an almost four hour wait in line to get a simple tray of smoked meat. Bottom line, I would do it again tomorrow if given the chance. As a young culinary student at CIA, we would discuss great chefs who honed their talent in small restaurants across Europe. Chefs who did their craft not for money, but because they loved it. I would think how great that would have been to eat at those places when they were in their prime and making history. I believe that Franklin’s is this type of place today, a little gem hidden in Austin, Texas. It is a culinary road trip must for anyone who can appreciate great food made simply. If you’re reading this and what I say makes sense, then I will repeat this line again. Franklin’s is the best BBQ in America, and worthy of a culinary road trip to say you’ve experienced it. Aaron, you are the Maestro of meat, and the Pig thanks you for sharing your art!
Franklin’s Barbecue first started as a dream of Chef Aaron’s that manifested itself in the form of backyard BBQ parties for his friends. He then took the next big step and started a simple food truck on the side of a Texas interstate, back in 2009. After a lot of learning, some highs and some lows in that small trailer, he opened in the location that Franklin’s now sits at 900 E 11th Street in Austin. Franklin’s is a true BBQ lovers landmark.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
The Pig is formally trained in the culinary arts, a graduate of the C.I.A., worked in the food industry for over 40 years and currently travels the country as a research chef searching food trucks, street vendors, little restaurants and hole in the walls, seeking out the best this country has to offer. For more great articles, culinary travel guides, and tips on travel and cooking follow us to our website.