I like BBQ. That’s probably a bit of an understatement, considering:
- The time I woke up at 4:00am on a Saturday to drive from Dallas to Lexington to try Texas Monthly’s 2008 pick for the best BBQ in the state at Snow’s BBQ (only open on Saturdays and usually sell out before noon)
- The time I squeezed in a late dinner at Kilgore’s Country Tavern for their famous east Texas ribs and got back home to Dallas at 2:00am
- The time I took a trip with other BBQ enthusiasts for the sole purpose of eating at four different Central Texas BBQ legends in one day and comparing notes
“Like” is definitely an understatement for someone who plans her intra-state driving trips around meals at BBQ joints. Certainly, I haven’t dedicated my life to Texas BBQ as this guy has, but I’ll say I’ve paid some dues and tasted enough of the “best Texas BBQ” to know what I want in a slice of brisket.
I was a little skeptical when the blogs first started raving about Franklin Barbecue. Could a young dude with a trailer and his crew out-smoke the legendary Texas BBQ dynasties? This is Texas after all, and part of the mystical draw of that luring smoke is the history behind the pits. Then the newspapers jumped on board, then Texas Monthly, and most recently, Food and Wine magazine.
There is truth to the hype, folks.
We’d been told that Franklin Barbecue (only open Wednesdays to Sundays from 11:00am to sellout) gathers quite the crowd on the weekends and that it would be wise to line up early (and this was before the national press in Food and Wine). So we arrived at Franklin 10 minutes to opening time on a Saturday, only to find this:
We were lucky that we got in line just in time. About six people queued up behind us before Aaron Franklin rolled out the “Sold Out” sign and closed the gate. But were we lucky?
By the time we got to the trailer to order, they were out of fatty brisket. I know, there are plenty of items on the menu (and we got all of them, including the lean brisket), but the essence of Texas BBQ is a slice of fatty brisket, dang it. But my disappointment at the brisket situation was soon cured by the huge spread of BBQ euphoria before me.
Franklin serves up some tender ribs, so juicy that it’s hard to pick up and eat with bare hands because the meat will fall off the bone as you grab for it. However, the succulent ribs retain a crusty bark despite its juicy interior. The smoke flavor is enhanced by the dry rub, and there’s just the slightest hint of sweetness that makes these ribs reminiscent of the BBQ of the deep south (without the sauce). Sorry Whole Hog Cafe, I’ve found a favorite new rib.
Continuing on the pork side of the table, the juicy pulled pork also impressed. The texture of the meat balanced the fine line of being structured but not stringy and moist but not mushy. I ate the least amount of pulled pork out of all the meats, but only because the fine texture of pulled pork would clearly do better in a sandwich (maybe with some of that vinegar sauce) than by itself.
When I hear the words “lean” and “brisket” together, I have nightmares of slices with the texture of deli roast beef. But unwrapping the butcher paper at Franklin Barbecue quickly dispelled my fear. I don’t know how Franklin Barbecue has managed to get lean brisket so moist that with my eyes closed, I wouldn’t even recognize that it’s the lean cut. The brisket is seasoned well, however, a touch strong on the salt when eaten alone. With a slice of white bread (or in a brisket sandwich), it is perfection.
The sausage at Franklin Barbecue has an extra dimension of richness in its flavor profile that can be attributed to the addition of organ meat (beef heart, as confirmed by FCG BBQ). My preference for sausage is one with a coarser filling (like Smitty’s peppery, snappy sausage), but Franklin’s sausage was still a crowd pleaser, enjoyable to the last bite.
On this initial visit, we also tried Franklin Barbecue’s excellent, extra mustardy potato salad.
But it’s not over until the fat brisket sings in my mouth. About a month later, news spread that Franklin Barbecue had acquired an additional smoker trailer and increased their production. On a much chillier Saturday, we once again found ourselves lined up at Franklin Barbecue ten minutes before 11:00am, this time a shorter but still substantial line of at least 25 people deep. A bit of patience standing in the breeze on this brisk morning paid off:
Hello, fatty brisket! This is going to sound blasphemous, but the fatty brisket was so rich, so intense, so beefy, that I actually couldn’t eat more than two slices. The unrestrained, gushing meat juices bowled me over. I reached for white bread not as a habit, but as a necessity. The intensity is amazing, but enjoy it in moderation.
We also ordered a rib plate to once again sample the piquant potato salad and excellent beans. The ribs were consistent from the previous visit, juicy, tender, with good bark.
Is Franklin Barbecue the best BBQ in Texas? That is a tricky question. I can honestly say that Franklin Barbecue is the only BBQ joint in Texas where each and every one of their meat items belongs in the top 3 in the state. On an item by item comparison, I prefer Snow’s brisket just a smidgeon over Franklin’s. On the three visits I’ve been to Snow’s, the brisket has been just as smoky and juicy as Franklin’s, but with restraint on the salt level so the brisket is more enjoyable by itself. Franklin’s ribs rival that of Smitty’s (when Smitty’s is having a good day), and while I’ve had significant inconsistency at Smitty’s on my three visits, Franklin Barbecue, thus far, has delivered a consistently rave-worthy product. Smitty’s sausage is still my favorite in the state, again,due to a personal preference for the texture. But the problem with the other BBQ joints is that while they may excel in some meats, they can be mediocre in others. At Franklin Barbecue, they should be proud of every single item they are dishing out, because everything is that good. If it’s not perfection, it’s pretty damn close.
Just remember to get there early.
3421 N. I-35
Austin, TX 78722