Franklin Barbecue (Austin, TX)

Franklin Barbecue was the last, and the finest, stop on the Central TX BBQ Run.

We now come to the last of my Austin trip food reviews. After two days of seriously gorging ourselves on BBQ and street food, for Sunday we had a relaxed pace. Sure, by this point I’d been to four different BBQ joints (some of my fellow travelers had been to seven by that point, including a second visit to City Market!) and sample food from at least a dozen street carts, but, surprisingly, I found myself a little bit hungry on Sunday morning. Our group rendezvoused for the last time at the hotel, and headed over to our last stop, Franklin Barbecue.

Franklin Barbecue is actually a fairly apropos place for my last stop on the Austin Food scene. I’ve been focusing on BBQ and food carts, and until recently, Franklin fell into both of these categories. Franklin has only been around on the Austin BBQ scene for a few years, and until just this last March, was serving his well-respected BBQ out of blue and white trailer. But in March, he moved into a small, former BBQ joint on 11th St in Austin, and has thus established a permanent barbecue destination. Having grown up around BBQ (I believe he said his parents owned a BBQ place in Bryan?), he’s been trying to make some of the best barbecue out there, which for TX is quite the challenge.

But he’s obviously been doing well. Yelp reviews consistently give his product high marks (~4.5 stars average review), generally only subtracting the occasional star for the long lines and the frequent food shortages (he’s currently still running the same three custom built smokers he did when running the cart, maximizing his output at about 600 lbs a day, although he’s working on getting permits for building two larger pits on-site). And most every Texas BBQ blog has mentioned him, including receiving the only six-star review from the well-respected Full Custom Gospel BBQ Blog. Like so many of the other places we went this week, the place is popular enough that we decided to get there around 9:20 in the morning, just to get a decent place in line when he opened at 10.

Well, that turned out to be a research error on our parts, since Franklin now opens at 11am (six days a week… while we were in line at Franklin, they posted new hours which show them being closed on Mondays now… but I think that Aaron and company have earned themselves a day of rest every week.). So we were literally the first folks to arrive. While it meant a lot of waiting (during which the various smoke smells turned all of us from “slightly hungry” to “very hungry”), it also gave us a good chance to talk with Aaron Franklin, who first wanted to make sure that we knew he opened at 11, and then spent about 20 minutes talking with us about where else we’d traveled for BBQ, how he’d had to remove the Southern Pride BBQs (gas-fired BBQ, the horror!) that were previously on-site, his plans for making new pits in back, and how he enjoys barbecue. Then, he had to get back to work, and we had to hold our place in line seriously, since by 9:30 several other people had shown up. By 10am, the line was dozens deep, and by 11am, the line stretched down the side of the building and through the (now-full) parking lot. Indeed, the line was getting long enough that I was concerned about the poor folks at the back of the line not getting meat.

He opened just a few minutes before 11, and we filed into the fairly pleasant and clean interior of the building. Arriving at a still-clean serving counter, we got to watch Aaron unwrap the first several briskets, pork, and sausage. Upon our group’s order of two lbs of brisket, four large pork ribs and a decent amount of sausage, he first sectioned the brisket and proudly held up the resulting cross-section, allowing us to see the nice, heavy bark, thick (sometimes up to 1/2″ thick) smoke ring, and the the very moist interior of the brisket. We opted for 1.5 lbs of the lean end, and half a pound of the fatty. Assembling the meat, we then moved off to our table to feast in front of the less fortunate souls still waiting in line.

So now, we come down to the most important issue: How good was it? Well, quite frankly, it blew the other places out of the water. The brisket was head and shoulders above that sold by Snow’s and City Market, and indeed, head and shoulders above every other smoked brisket I had. Everything was spot-on perfect: the meat was moist and the fat rendered, the smoke perfusing throughout the meat with a solid 1/2″ smoke layer in most places.

The bark was dark and crusty, but also spicy and flavorful with a nice pepper tang. The meat was seriously tender, especially the few slices we had from the fatty end pulling apart into a light lace as you tugged at them. Both ends of the brisket were juicy and tender as well, and, most importantly, still had strong beef notes as well. The picture of the brisket here can only hint at how good this stuff was.

However, what really made me impressed about Franklin was the rest of the plate. At most Texas places, ribs play second fiddle to the brisket, but here the ribs were every bit as well done as the brisket. Good, spicy bark. Clear smoke line. Nice, tender meat that was almost, but not quite, falling off the bone. Not 100% sure, but if these aren’t the best ribs I’ve had as well, they are pretty close. The sausage was very nicely done as well, although the particular flavor and grind made me think of this more as a kielbasa than the more typical Czech and German sausages common to Texas BBQ. Still, a thoroughly good sampling.

Unlike most of the places, Franklin also has several sauces on the table, which I tried a little bit of. All of them were good, the espresso BBQ sauce being phenomenally tasty, with a nice mix of smoke, spice, and sweetness. However, I always felt like it was some sort of test with a hidden camera: the meat was so good that it just felt like sacrilege putting it on the meat. I always felt that if I did so, Aaron would drop what he was doing, run around the counter, and banish me forever for committing such heresy. So I didn’t put any on my meat, but did use some with the bread to sop up some of the random rib and brisket pieces laying about at the end of the meal.

Overall, it was clear that everyone in our party thought this place was the runaway winner. Despite all of us already being in a state of “meat shock” from three days of feasting at between five and eight BBQ joints (depending on the person), we all thought Franklin’s meat was best, and, in a demonstration of this, our party of six managed to burn through ~3 pounds of meat in under 10 minutes, wondering if there was any way we could cut in line for more. We realized that we had committed at least two tactical blunders: (a) not ordering at least 3 lbs of brisket, and (b) not ordering any of the pulled pork, which supposedly was equally good.

So, for those considering a trip to the Austin area, I highly, highly recommend a trip to Franklin BBQ. Sure, the line can be long, so come early. But the meat is good, the location is easily accessible (vs. a place like Snow’s that’s only open on Saturday, and 2 hours away). The parking can be tight. The wait in line tantalizing long. But the quality more than makes us for it.

Seriously, if there’s better BBQ brisket out there, I really want to know about it. Really. I’ll go check it out.

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