Thursday, May 16, 2013

Eating Out: Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas

By Dru Chai

Texas Monthly just recently announced their list of Top 50 Barbecue Joints, where they proclaimed Franklin BBQ to be #1 -- the best of the best. But who is Texas Monthly and what makes them the authority to judge BBQ? What criteria did they use? Was this based on just one visit or multiple visits?

One thing's for sure, they want you to subscribe or buy the magazine when the issue releases. They are enjoying publicity boost ever since their hiring of Daniel Vaughn as their BBQ Editor. He was a part time blogger, and quit his day job in the corporate world. Several years later and over 600 BBQ restaurants eaten notched on his belt, his dream became a reality. Oh, and it also helps to be on TV with Anthony Bourdain.

A few months ago, I had never even heard of Texas Monthly. To a native Southern Californian with a passion for BBQ who has only visited Texas once, almost all of the BBQ joints listed are unfamiliar. I've maybe heard of about a dozen of them. During my short trip to Austin, I only went to 4 BBQ places -- Smitty's, The Salt Lick, Black's, and Franklin BBQ.

Arrived at 8am and there was already 20 people waiting
The line at around 9am. Doesn't anyone have work? Hey, I'm on vacation.

My favorite of the 4 would have to be Franklin BBQ. I can see why they are listed as the top by Texas Monthly. Their fatty brisket is undeniably delicious, and so is their smoked turkey. They've been mentioned in numerous magazines and publications -- Bon Appetit named Franklin the best BBQ in America. They are always mentioned on television when it comes to Texas BBQ, and the owner Aaron Franklin (doppelganger here) is one of the judges on BBQ Pitmasters.

Franklin BBQ uses all post oak wood, you can see the shacks for smokers
The line when Franklin BBQ opened at 11am

So you can understand why a place with that much publicity can generate so much buzz and "hype" -- there is always a 2-hour wait and they routinely sell out and run out of food. On my particular visit, owner and pitmaster Aaron Franklin was walking around each table, talking to customers, and posing for pictures in his grease stained t-shirt. I enjoyed my short chat with him, as he was down-to-earth and humble, even with his newfound BBQ celebrity status.

The inside is small and cozy, about 5 tables. More seating outside on patio.
The menu

Brisket is my favorite meat to smoke, so I was really looking forward to trying Franklin BBQ's brisket. After waiting in line for 2 hours, my mind was a bit delusional (not to mention hungry) so I ordered 2 pounds. What I saw in front of me was practically heaven on butcher paper. Ultra black and smoky bark, beautiful pink smoke ring, with meat juices flowing out left and right.

2 lbs of brisket along with a few slices of smoked turkey. Drool.
Love that ultra black and crusty bark against the pink smoke ring

The brisket was tender, but it actually lacked a little seasoning and flavor if I didn't include some of the smoky bark or a dab of Franklin's house made BBQ sauce. It was definitely great brisket, but would I wait in a long line again? Probably not. Once was enough for experience. The other standout was the smoked turkey -- it was by far the best I've ever had, and something I hope to replicate every Thanksgiving. I'm glad I got to try Franklin BBQ, and while they have their critics (what does being hipster have to do with good BBQ?), it really is worth a try for the first-time visitor.

Franklin BBQ - Austin, TX - (Dirty Smoke Rating of 5/5 stars)
The Good - The fatty brisket and the smoked turkey.
The Bad - Forget the sides, save the room for the meat.
The Ugly - The ribs were horrible. Overcooked, mushy, and bland.