At 10am on a sunny Friday morning in Austin a line of almost 250 people already snakes through the parking lot adjacent to Franklin Barbecue, waiting for the doors to open at 11. This organized pandemonium has become a near-daily affair at the smokehouse, which has racked up superlatives from everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Food & Wine since opening its brick-and-mortar location in 2011 (the concept originally launched out of a trailer in an East Austin parking lot in 2009). But plenty of places have press hype that dies down—here, you can tell that restaurant has star power by its ability to support ancillary business. Cast an eye towards the Texas Capital’s downtown, and you’ll find a gentlemen renting chairs for $5.
“He didn’t have great success the first time, but now he seems to be humming,” Franklin’s general manager says of the sidewalk hustler. “I hope people realize it isn’t us trying to make money off of chairs.”
A former radio producer, Ben Jacob has known Aaron Franklin for 20 years. While the young pit master dances around his smokers, Jacob works the dining room and galdly ushers folks who have been waiting in line for hours toward the bathroom. The hype is palpable as you work your way through this madness, but the true allure of Franklin BBQ isn’t newcomer swagger, but rather its loving homages to classic preparations.
“The defining feature of the brisket is that it is very traditional, central Texas/German style. It is not very unique, in that the style has gone back centuries: Slow-cooked, slow-smoked with oak on an off-set cooker,” says Jacob, referring to the use of barrel smokers that keep the meat away from any direct heat source. “Unfortunately, a lot of people moved away from that in the past few decades. Here in central Texas, there is a strong tradition—Driftwood, Lockhart, Luling… all these areas use off-set smokers. We continue that tradition here in Austin.”
The wait (and a rented chair) is all part of the true Franklin experience.
Germans have flocked to central Texas since the 1800s. Along with brisket, these immigrants brought with them the accordion, which features in Tejano music today, and the almighty sausage, which figures into the Holy Trinity of central Texas barbecue: brisket, pork ribs, and links. Franklin foes a roaring trade in all of these, but it also uses additional menu items as a way to bring some signature flair to the table. Aaron and his team offer pulled pork and turkey; the latter comes as a buttery, smoked breast, and it is Jacob’s personal favorite.
While he chats, Fiore Tedesco busily slices brisket for pre-orders. Franklin gets through 1,500 pounds a day, and the pedigreed Tedesco—who previously worked at New York’s venerable Gramercy Tavern—is charged with chopping it all up. He works in concise strokes, providing a contrast to Aaron’s frantic ballet around the smokes. Tedesco explains the difference between the lean and fatty side of the meat, instructing a customer from Dallas on how to properly slice it properly at home—each part has a different grain, so if you cut it the same way all the way through the glory of product ends in unattractive shreds.
After the man from Dallas moves on, an older lady collects her pre-order bounty with a knowing smile. Order enough for take-out (one whole brisket, or at least five pounds of any other meat), and you beat the line. Just don’t tell the crowds outside…the wait (and a rented chair) is all part of the true Franklin experience.
Franklin BBQ, 9 E 11th, Austin, TX (512-653-1187, franklinbarbecue.com). Open Tue–Sun, 11am until the meat sells out.