Forward: In a web design class I am being taught that a post shouldn’t be more than 200 to 250 words. This is going to be longer. A LOT longer. If you don’t like reading, that’s OK. Don’t. But please don’t bore me with complaints about how long this is. You can’t compress something like this. Not really. If you just want to cut to the chase, scroll down to the line that starts, “So, how was the barbeque?” Anyway, here goes. My American pilgrimage….
Do you hear it? The buzzing noise? That keeps getting louder. For the past two years in Texas barbeque circles people have been talking more and more about Franklin’s barbeque in Austin, Texas. He started in a trailer, and now has his own building. He’s expanded several times, and a new and larger pit is under construction.
I’ve wanted to try it for some time. Lynn Rosetta Kasper of “The Splendid Table” said it was the best barbeque she has ever had. Anthony Bourdain has said it is one of the best things he’s ever eaten. The Barbeque Snob at the Full Custom Gospel BBQ site gives this place 6 stars, the first to ever get 6 stars, and only one of two places to ever do so.
And that brings me to this weekend. We were in Austin, and for the first time I had time to go by and check out their BBQ. Time to make the American Pilgrimage. “Time to check it out”? What does that mean? Well, good BBQ takes time to make,. Lots of time. Franklin cooks his brisket for around 24 hours. And a BBQ pit has limited capacity. All of this, coupled with insanely high demand, means that Franklin’s runs out early. Their sign says they are open from 11:00 until they run out. And that can be, and usually is, before 1:00. If you want his barbeque, you get there early. Like around 9:00. They leave the “Sorry – Sold Out” sign up until the next day when it is taken down for an hour or two. They don’t want people to walk up and be disappointed when they can’t get some Q. On previous trips to Austin, I had early morning commitments that precluded making the pilgrimage.
As I walked up, I took this picture and facebooked, “I got here at 8 45. 2 hours and 15 minutes before Franklin’s opens. I thought I’d be the first obsessive here. Nope, 10 people beat me here. And there are a number of cars in the lot. Ya gotta love fanatics!”
Beth, depending on your viewpoint, didn’t want to stand in “The Line” in the sun for two hours or hadn’t properly purified herself for the pilgrimage. So, I was going to get barbeque to go so we could share it at the hotel room.
“The Line” is a phenomenon all its own. People talk, swap stories. The big question asked by most first timers is, “is it REALLY worth it to be here THIS early?” And the answer is, “Yes! You’ve never had barbeque like this before!” People tell tales about barbeque they have had elsewhere, barbeque they have made. They tell tales about their families. Oddly enough, most reports about Franklin’s spend a lot of time talking about the line. It is, after all, the longest part of the experience.
About 9:15, next Facebooking – “What DOES it all mean. A young woman is wearing a T-shirt with the off the shoulder look, giving us a good look. In large letters there’s the word, “HOOKER”. Under that is a picture of John Lee Hooker. I am SO confused! (From the line at Franklin’s bbq)” I should have gotten a picture of her.
The 40 something gal next to me is telling her new boyfriend about the hard times in her family. As near as I can tell, just about everyone seems to have been shot at least twice. Once fatally. Since she’s still alive, she seems to have avoided the family curse. Her daughter seems to building a real life for herself. Her boyfriend had a look of feigned interest.
One of the people in line offered to get a chair for me out of her car. I thanked her, but declined and either stood or sat on the concrete while waiting. Next time, a chair. Many people had iPads, books, or iPods to keep themselves occupied. Was this Occupy Barbeque? A number had large umbrellas.
Around 10:00 “The line is still growing. The clouds are burning off. The estimator is still asking people about how much they want. When he thinks today’s smoke is sold, he tells people its not likely they’ll get barbeque today.” The estimator isn’t taking orders, he’s just asking people about how much they’ll want so he can tell people that they can go home now. An interesting custom. After he performed that task, he came back out selling soft drinks. If it hadn’t been Sunday, he’d have been selling beer as well.
If you’re not from Texas, we still have some blue laws in effect. You may not sell or purchase alcohol before noon on Sunday. It’s to make sure you’re sober enough to go to church. It hadn’t worked with us, though one person commented he had to get some for his dad who was in church. Dad wouldn’t miss church, not even for barbeque. Few of us understood his dad’s convictions – we were worshiping in the only way that mattered at that moment. A few people were sharing beer from their ice chests.
The line has gotten longer, and people are sitting on any surface they can find in the shade. A few regulars told me that the line was shorter than usual, probably because it was Father’s Day. A person in front of me commented he was getting enough Q for 15 people, 15 HUNGRY people, because it was Father’s Day and they were celebrating.
Finally, at 11:00 the doors opened. And things moved quickly enough that I forgot to take any more pictures. Next time. Inside, it’s air conditioned. The tables are semi-rustic and Willie Nelson is playing on a radio. We shuffle forwards. Legend had it that Aaron Franklin cuts all the meat himself, and wouldn’t allow anyone else to cut his meat. The torch has been passed. Aaron watched, drinking what seemed to be a cup of espresso, as an employee cut the meat to order The cutter was fast, efficient and friendly.
The first question is, “Here or to go?” From there, I ordered a pound of brisket (dark, fatty and moist please!), a pound of pork ribs, a half pound of pulled pork, and two links of sausage. All were wrapped in butcher paper when he removed them from the warmer, unwrapped, sliced, weighed. The slabs of meat were re-wrapped and returned to the warmer, the freshly cut meat was wrapped in fresh butcher paper and put in a plastic bag. It was a very good thing that it was in the plastic bag – the meat was SO moist it leaked through the butcher paper. A second thought snuck in and I asked for some bread and coleslaw.
A short drive later and Beth and I dug in.
So, how was the barbeque? I hit a link of sausage first. I like a crisp, juicy, flavorful sausage, and that sausage really delivered. Some complain the sausage casing is too tough. I understand their complaint, but I don’t agree with it. It had a delightful resistance to my teeth – or a snap – as I bit through it, and the juices were amazing. It’s my German heritage – give me a good sausage and I’m a happy camper!
Next up was the pork ribs. Ribs aren’t my favorite, but they were next in the package and I was ravenous. It was about 11:30 and I hadn’t had breakfast. The ribs were amazingly tender and dripping with porky smoky goodness. Someone described some barbeque he’d had as “creamy” and was hooted and laughed at. All I can say is, try it, the meat had a creamy texture. It melted in my mouth and I couldn’t wait to have another rib.
Then it was brisket time. Again, the meat was so moist it was dripping. It was so tender it fell apart as you picked up a slice. It had a generous smoke ring. Franklin uses what is called “the black and white” rub, or salt and pepper. The meat was very nice. However, the smoke flavor really wasn’t as forward as I would have liked. What IS the proper balance of smoke flavor? It’s a matter of judgment, not a matter of right and wrong. But I really wanted more smoke. I like brisket to have a bark on it, a very dark and crisp outer layer. I think that being wrapped in the butcher paper trapped moisture and softened that outer layer. It DID have some benefits in keeping the meat moist. And I have to admit that in contrast all other barbeque has been dry. It was that moist. Really.
Finally, it was pulled pork time. The pulled pork was almost unpleasant. It wasn’t cooked enough to be pullin’ tender – they chopped the pulled pork rather than pulling it. The meat didn’t have any real flavor, and it certainly wasn’t smoky enough. We made an east coast sandwich with pulled pork, coleslaw and the white bread. It REALLY needed some barbecue sauce.
We had to use some hotel room towels to clean off the table – the butcher paper had leaked out a lot of meaty goodness.
The next day, I had some of the left over brisket and rib. And the smoke flavor had moved forward considerably. I liked them the second day much more than the first.
I hate to say it, but I really prefer the brisket from the Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas. The flavor profile is better, and it has real bark What would happen to Franklin’s bbq if he didn’t wrap it? I don’t know, but I’d love to find out!
Do I have any thrilling or insightful conclusions? Read ‘em and weep…
Would I recommend Franklin’s to friends? Oh yes, the experience is great and the food is very, very good. Other than the pulled pork. But bring a hat, sunscreen, a book and a chair. An ice chest isn’t a bad thing to bring either.
Will I make another pilgrimage to Franklin’s? Yeah, almost certainly. If only to take pictures inside. BBQ in the morning, Jester King in the afternoon.
Will I order the pulled pork next time? Probably not. If the pork is darker and promises more smoke taste, yeah. Otherwise not.