The story of Franklin Barbecue reads like an Austin fairy-tale. In 2009, Aaron Franklin started serving his barbecue from a travel trailer from a parking lot in East Austin after tending the smoker all night fueled by espresso and crossword puzzles.
Almost immediately, word of the now legendary barbecue spread through Austin and Aaron was greeted each morning by a line of meat-hungry foodies. Then word traveled across the country via food blogs and soon after, the press came knocking which led to featured articles in The Washington Post, Texas Monthly, and Bon Appetit (which named Franklin the best barbecue in America) and they were highlighted on Cooking Channel.
In 2011, Franklin Barbecue moved to a permanent location and the crowds followed. Recently, Franklin Barbecue was featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. I needed to go.
Franklin Barbecue opens at 11am and closes when they run out of food, which is usually around 1:30pm, but if you aren’t in line before they open then they will run out before you get to the door. My girlfriend and I showed up at 9:30am and found there were already a few people in line including a couple who came prepared, sitting in folding chairs reading their Kindles.
Within half an hour of arriving, the line reached down the length restaurant into the parking lot behind the building. Around 10:30am an employee came by with a clipboard, not to get our exact order but to get an estimate of what we were thinking about ordering. He said it was so they could figure out approximately where in the line they would run out of different meats. At 11am sharp the doors opened.
The line moved slowly at first as the people in front of us ordered at the counter, paid and got their food. As the crew behind the counter got into the groove, the line started to speed up. Once it was our turn, I ordered the 2 Meat Plate with pork ribs and the famous brisket and my girlfriend ordered the Tipsy Texan, a sandwich with chopped beef, sausage and coleslaw on a hamburger bun.
The slicer, who we placed our order with, asked me if I wanted my brisket lean or fatty.My answer was lean and I asked for some burnt ends if possible. Before switching from the fatty cut of the brisket to the leaner he sliced off a big piece of fatty brisket, cut it up and delivered it over the counter on butcher paper for us and our neighbors in line to sample. That first singular bite, dripping with fat and juice, was amazing and foreshadowed what was to come.
The blue tray, covered in butcher paper, already stained with the gloved handprints of the guys behind the counter, appeared just as I finished paying. We decided to sit at one of the picnic benches on the deck to take advantage of the beautiful autumn weather. We were ready to dig in!
Two Meat Plate
Sitting down I immediately bit into the two full pork ribs. The meat was tender and pulled right off the bone without falling off on their own. The only way to describe the crust is to say it was as close to perfect as I ever hope to taste in my lifetime. It had a slight snap to it that was rewarding and was spiced perfectly to complement the meat, not overpower it.
My brisket was four thick slices including one right off the end covered in crust. The taste and quality of the brisket surpasses the hype. It was tender and flavorful and the bark, like the ribs, added to, without overpowering, the flavor of the meat and the smoke. Even though I ordered from the leaner brisket there was still a nice thin layer of fat that added to the flavor and juiciness.
The sides I got, coleslaw and potato salad, were disappointing. They tasted nothing more than what you would find in a supermarket. But that’s not really the point of Franklin Barbecue, is it?
My girlfriend’s sandwich was enormous and, at only eight dollars, definitely the best bang for the buck on the menu. A huge portion of chopped brisket (the odds and ends from slicing, not from lesser cuts of meat) with just a hint of barbecue sauce mixed in is then topped with a handful of sausage slices and cole slaw, all between a hamburger bun. The chopped brisket was delicious and had bits of lean meat, fatty bits as well as pieces of crust. The sausage was nicely spiced with a sweet aftertaste (I’m definitely going to order some sausage next time). Unfortunately the cole slaw wasn’t as outstanding as the meats but it did add a nice crunch to the sandwich.
After eating at more mainstream or frequented rib joints in town I am used to being served barbecue as hot as if it just came off a grill. But at Franklin Barbecue your meat hasn’t been near any real heat, from what I understand, for nearly 9 hours. It took a little getting used to but it allows your taste buds to really taste what is going on without it being masked by heat.
On the tables were three different barbecue sauces in unmarked glass bottles. The first was your standard barbecue sauce, the second a super thick sauce with a bit more spice than the first, and the third was a North Carolina style vinegar based sauce. I have not had a lot of experience with vinegar based barbecue sauces because they are usually dismissed in Texas barbecue circles. Quite frankly the meat at Franklin Barbecue doesn’t “need” sauce like at other places but the vinegar based one was a nice complement every few bites. The flavor was more subtle than the other two and gave a small kick of spice while the vinegar added a tartness to the buttery meat.
There is so much hype over Franklin Barbecue. People talk about how you have to line up long before they even open in order to get your lunch there. When celebrities come to Austin they talk about going to Franklin Barbecue. But unlike many other hyped Austin locations, Franklin Barbecue is worthy of the hype and well worth standing in line for a few hours. It’s a little weird getting ready for a barbecue lunch at 9am (or even earlier on the weekends from what I have heard) but there is a real difference. You can taste the patience and love for the craft that is put into it.
900 E. 11th
Austin, TX 78702