Thursday, August 16, 2012

Franklin's BBQ with Raichlen, 8.14.2012

Franklin’s BBQ Feast with Raichlen

Noted grilling and barbecue expert and author Steven Raichlen was in town this past Tuesday, here to do a lecture at the Bob Bullock State History Museum on the history of barbecue and its role in the development of civilization (which was critical by the way), and eat some glorious Texas, make that Austin, barbecue. We met years back when he was here doing a class at Central Market and have stayed in touch through the years. He wanted to know what the hottest joints were in the area, and I asked him if he had been to Franklin’s yet, explaining the well-earned national kudos that Aaron and Stacy have been receiving. He asked me to set it up if possible, and after a few pleading emails, I took a long lunch to meet Steven there, with the lovely and inimitable Stacy Franklin (whose birthday is Friday!) giving Steven the 5-star tour.

The line of devotees at 11:10, ten minutes after the official opening, with the temperature near 100°F. Lines form early; cutters and place savers are heavily frowned must suffer for greatness.

Out back we got the grand tour, with Stacy showing us the three massive pits that Aaron has made. These babies hardly ever cool down, and get loaded to the brim with meat starting around 1am. The brisket cooks about 12 hours (batches of brisket run almost non-stop), the ribs 8 to 9 hours, and the pork butt 9 to 10 hours, with the temperature hovering around 275°. They get a simple rub of salt and pepper (and Stacy winks when she says “That’s pretty much it.”). Of course the wizardry and alchemy that is the craft of a barbecue genius plays heavily: ambient temperature, humidity of the air and the firewood, wind speed and direction, the science of sustaining the fire, maintaining the heat level, fat content of the meat, etc. Lots of factors have to be compensated for to achieve consistency at such an elevated level.  

Steven and Stacy checking out one of the three handmade pits that Aaron has welded in his shop.

The business end of a Franklin pit, post oak glowing away.

The interior: drooling, ravenous crowd snaking ever closer to the order counter, while some seated lucky stiffs begin their barbecue odyssey.

Slicing-to-order: the wrapped meat is pulled from the warming cabinet in the corner, and sliced as you like it. Note the massive sandwich.

We dined out back at the employee table. As Steven interviewed Stacy, we plunged elbow deep into the tray, with me starting with a big, fat pork rib. The spicy bark on the outside was loaded with flavor and the oak penetrated deep into the meltingly tender and moist meat. The rib managed to retain bite and texture, but was amazingly tender and porky. The ribs have gotten even better since the last visit, if that’s possible. The brisket is the stuff of barbecue wet dreams: deep penetrating smoke ring, crusty and caramelized spicy bark, moist and beefy, and a texture that has a perfect balance between substance and tenderness. Perhaps the best brisket that’s ever entered my pie hole. I love the sausage, which Aaron has custom-made by Gary Tharp down the street at Texas Sausage: coarse textured, enough fat to make it moist and loaded with flavor, a spicy kick from garlic, cayenne, and black pepper, and a nice snap to the smoky casing. The pulled pork is tender and smoky and when you get a piece of that wonderful bark mixed in there, it’s plain orgasmic. The big surprise to me was the turkey breast, which managed to be smoky, and exceedingly moist and tender. If it was brined, you couldn’t taste it. Best smoked turkey ever, and Stacy’s personal favorite. This stuff cold on a sandwich with some aioli and ripe tomato would be criminal. The slaw is mayo-based, the spud salad mustard sauced, and the beans rich and meaty. I don’t want to poo-poo the sides at Franklin’s but it ain’t vegetables you go to Franklin’s (or any great barbecue restaurant for that matter) to eat. The sauces are excellent, with their selection of three: a perfectly balanced sweet-tart Texas, the rich dark espresso-based unit that’s one of my all-time faves, and the thinner, spicy, vinegary sauce that was developed for the pulled pork.    

The finished platter of Franklin goodies, ready to devour.....sunlight shot,

...and under the umbrella, as Steven nabs some pulled pork. Note the smoke ring on brisket and ribs.

Steven posing before our gluttonous bounty, rib in hand.

We didn’t have room for it, and couldn’t finish them, but Stacy brought out some excellent 4-inch pies made by Melissa Brinkmann at Cake and Spoon: a rich and decadent banana cream with bourbon, and an amazing lemon chess that took me straight back to my grandma’s amazing version with every bite.

Dessert: on the left, bourbon banana cream pie with graham cracker crust, on the right, a classic Southern lemon-chess pie.

The aftermath. The rib that sacrificed itself for my gustatory sins.

Steven loved it, I loved it, and it looked like the devotees in the dining room loved it. Franklin’s exists on a rarefied plain. This is incredible barbecue, overwhelmingly worthy of every kudo it receives.

mick vann ©



  1. Hopefully I can get down there Friday for the feast.

  2. I consider Raichlen's Barbecue Bible my, well, barbecue bible. I couldn't make it all work to see him when he was in town. Sounds great!