Review: Franklin BBQ

Synopsis:
The experience of attending Franklin BBQ was very trying, with multiple hours in a parking lot in the Austin summer sun. The brisket ranged from good to awesome depending on fattiness, the pulled pork was very flavorful, and while I like different spices than what he rubs on his ribs, they were fall-off-bone tender. I feel like the food was worth the effort this time, but not necessarily worth the experience for a repeat visit. Thankfully, it looks like an almost-finished new pit will add enough meat for extra hours and hopefully change the experience from “sold out unless you’re in line early” to “show up when you want”.

Review:
While Sarah and I aren’t by any means BBQ experts, we do live right in the heart of the Central Texas BBQ holy land, so it’s right and proper for us to enjoy what we’ve got. Of course, most of the joints that are known as the best are not in Austin proper, but a fair drive away in nearby towns, so our laziness kicks in and we don’t explore as many as we could. That’s why I was happy to hear, several months ago, that a relatively new place had sprung up in Austin that rivaled the giants from BBQ capital Lockhart. You had to show up early to get in line before they ran out of food, but it would be worth it. It stayed in the back of my mind until Bon Appetit featured Franklin BBQ in an article that went so far as to call it the best BBQ in the USA. This made me excited and sad; if Franklin was getting this kind of press, then we definitely had to check it out, but if there had already been crazy lines, that would be made all the worse from the publicity.

This past Saturday was our day to check it out. We arrived at about 10:20 and after avoiding several fire hydrant parking traps, we took our place at the end of a line that was already well into the parking lot. It took a while to get over the natural irritation that tried to build up due to us not moving; after all, the place doesn’t even open until 11.
The line at Franklin BBQ when we arrived
Immediately I felt stupid for not bringing sunscreen or an umbrella, as we would be in direct sunlight for quite a while. We met the people in front of us, although they eventually gave up and left. At opening time, we rejoiced to see a large amount of movement at the front of the line, hopeful to move closer to the sheltering shade of the building. Alas, the initial burst was not nearly enough, and the line moved extremely slowly after that.

A (short? long? who can remember?) while later, one of the employees came by, with a tally in hand. When she reached us, she warned us that they’d likely be out of ribs by the time we got to the counter, and that we were looking at about a 2 hour wait. Oof. We let her know how much brisket we planned to get (so she could determine where the real sold-out cut-off point in the line would be), and settled in for a wait much longer than we were hoping for. A few minutes later we observed the tail end of the line disperse, unwilling to gamble that the people ahead of them would order less than they planned.

The wait in line wasn’t 100% unpleasant (although it was close). That same employee brought out an ice bucket of drinks to sell us, which was sorely needed. Probably an hour after that (sad when you can measure events in line in the space of hours), she brought out complimentary “sausage wraps” – about a quarter link wrapped in a piece of bread. We met the people behind us, one of whom works for Apple. We eventually reached shade! And finally, at 1:10, we got inside the restaurant, with a modest a/c keeping things a bit more comfortable than outside.
The view from the entrance of Franklin BBQ

When we finally sat down with our food at 1:45, we had a nice looking pile of meat and some hungry stomachs ready to consume it. Luckily for us, the prediction that we’d be without ribs was wrong, so we grabbed some, along with a bit of pulled pork, and of course, the famous brisket (half lean, half fatty). Visually, everything looked like excellent bbq, with an awesome crust on the brisket and a very impressive smoke ring on the ribs.
Smoke ring
But what matters is the taste!

My first bite of brisket, a lean piece: “Hm.. really? This is what everyone’s raving about?” It was, first of all, extremely tender, more tender than any brisket I’ve had anywhere else. But the taste wasn’t too impressive; good, just not impressive. But I had to be fair and try all aspects, so I reached for a bite of the fatty cut. “Oh wow, now this is something!” I’ve never liked fatty cuts of meat, BBQ or otherwise. The fat has always been chewy in a way I can’t really stand, even to the point of giving me a gag reflex. But this was something else entirely. The fat had melted away entirely, so there was no chewiness, but instead a really intense injection of flavor that was just awesome. This, I could tell, was why people raved about Franklin’s brisket. I just kept wanting more.

Next up, I tried some pulled pork, which is something I’ve attempted a couple of times on my own smoker. Right away the inherent taste to the pork was different than what I’d made. It didn’t seem like it came from the rub, but rather that the meat itself had a different flavor, and a good one, somewhat salty but not too strong. My suspicion, given the nature of the flavor, is that he brines his pork butts, and given the results, I may start to do so myself. Each bite of the pulled pork was quite flavorful, but I couldn’t say there was necessarily anything that stood out to me about it – it was simply very good, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Left to right: Ribs, brisket, pulled pork

Finally, the ribs. These ribs were slipping off the bone. Not falling, which invokes imagery of the weight of the meat pulling itself down, but rather slipping effortlessly. The meat was just as tender in the mouth, although I’m not personally a huge fan of the rub used on it. Not that I disliked it at all, but I prefer the flavors in the Memphis-style rub I use when I make ribs. That being said, the ribs were Sarah’s favorite, and even if I prefer a different rub, they were still extremely tasty to me.

In the end, I definitely was extremely pleased with my meal, and it is indeed the best brisket I’ve ever had (the fatty portion, anyway). But I’d be hard-pressed to go through that same effort for any favorite food again; multiple hours in the Austin summer heat while standing in line are just too big a burden. Apparently, if you arrive around 9, you do get a spot near the front of the line, with free water and coffee, and shade from the building. You wait about the same amount of time, but in more comfort (but no free sausage wrap :) ). Franklin is building a new pit, which the line-visiting employee indicated would allow them to have dinner hours. If they have enough meat that they don’t run out from one big rush, the dining experience is going to be so much better, and more people will be able to taste this wonderful BBQ. I’ll have to go again when that’s set up!

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3 Responses to Review: Franklin BBQ

  1. Kirstin says:

    Wow, Jonathan. You should get a job as a food critic! A pretty professional job. We are enjoying all sorts of amazing food here in California but I’m sure there’s no BBQ like we could find in Texas, unfortunately.

  2. jmendez says:

    Thanks! Maybe we’ll get on a BBQ kick and try out a lot more of the great places around here, each with its own review.

    What kinds of food does California do well?

  3. Kirstin says:

    We’ve had some great Indian food here in the Silicon Valley. I’ve also had Korean food here that I actually really like (as opposed to when I’ve tried it elsewhere). This place is very international, so all sorts of ethnic good foods are to be had.

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