How does a pit master go from restaurant employee to roadside business owner to best barbeque in the world in just a few years? Okra’s Barbeque Chronicles decided to investigate.
We’re talking about Austin’s Franklin Barbeque. It has been named the top barbeque restaurant in Texas (to Texans that is synonymous with the world) by Texas Monthly and the top barbeque restaurant in the Country by Bon Appetit.
When Melinda and I were in Austin, we heard one should be at Frankin by 10 AM to get near the front of the line. We got there at 9:45 AM but the information must have been outdated. There was already a very long line. There was a carnival-like atmosphere. Employees of the restaurant peddled beer, water and soft drinks.
Another employee asked each group what they were ordering to assess who would be the last person to be guaranteed brisket. That person was asked to carry a sign. Across the street a vendor was renting folding chairs and umbrellas. The couple behind us was getting married and used the time to make favors for their guests.
In front of us was a group of women on a lunch outing; yah, we’re talking four hour lunch outing. They had been friends for years and were from various parts of the country, though they all lived in Austin now. One was from North Carolina and had a serious appreciation for pork barbeque. One was a native of Austin.
The woman from North Carolina said her family had enjoyed take-out from Franklin only a few days before. She said the pulled pork did not meet her standards because it was smoked rather than barbequed. (see Barbeque Chronicles East Texas for cooking methods in the Carolinas versus Texas.) She thought the flavor was too smoky and that the smoke overwhelmed the pork.
Melinda and I were in line for over two hours. We had an umbrella for shade, drank lots of water, and our new friends shared sunscreen; however Melinda was suffering from the sun by the time we entered the restaurant. Once in we could see other people eating barbeque, but the line wrapped around two walls of the restaurant – such punishment.
So you ask, was it worth the wait? In Texas it really is about the brisket, and the brisket was incredible. It was tender, moist and flavorful. The sausage was good, and I enjoyed the pulled pork. It was not North Carolina style, but could be appreciated for what it was – smoked meat (maybe I’ve been in Texas too long!). Unfortunately they were out of ribs; I was told by our new friends that the ribs are fall off the bone good.
What is different about their approach? Like a number of pit masters have told me; the pit master makes the difference. However, here are a few observations.
Franklin cooks over post oak like most barbeque restaurants in Central Texas. They cook in smokers like most in Texas (interestingly most of Franklin’s smokers still have wheels). They use a simple rub (lots of black pepper), like most. The brisket had a lot of marbling; likely Upper Choice or Certified Angus Beef, and this made a difference. They wrapped the briskets in butcher paper and kept them in an electric warmer until serving. While this isn’t important to the home cook, it makes a large difference for a Texas Barbeque restaurant. The wrap and nontraditional electric warmer add to a consistent product during the serving period.
So, again, is it worth the wait in line? Many say absolutely, like the women in front of us in line. Melinda would say absolutely not; hours in the sun spoiled the event for her. I say it was worth it once for the experience; however being a Type A person, I wouldn’t like wait in line there again. But, there is a secret known to the locals.
If you want to try Franklin Barbeque and don’t want the experience of waiting in line, pre-order. One has to call a week or more in advance, as we learned from the Austin native in line. Then pick up your order as early as 10:15 with no wait.