There comes a time in every cook’s career when one must go on a journey to discover new foods and unique culinary experiences. So that is how I came to find myself on the road looking to discover the “best of the best” old fashion Southern American classics like hush puppies, po’ boys, butter beans, gumbo, shaved ice, sweet potato pie, and the holy grail of all southern cooking, BBQ. Previously my attempts at finding real BBQ in Vancouver had left me only terribly disappointed, regrettable meals of dried-out brisket, overcooked and tasteless ribs, and sauce drowned pulled pork sandwiches. So now, after a 48 hour train journey across the deserts of California, Arizona, and Southern Texas, it was with much anticipation that I arrived greatly sleep deprived and starving in Austin. I was here to eat at a place that has quickly ascended to legendary status, Franklin Barbecue. It was time in this cook’s life to taste real BBQ and in Texas that means one thing only: brisket.
Franklin Barbecue started just over 3 years ago as a trailer in Austin’s notoriously competitive street food scene. You can’t go a block or two here without coming across a uniquely colourful food truck of some sort, yet within weeks there were lineups many people deep waiting patiently to consume their perfectly executed menu of slow and low cooked meats. In fact, I am greeted upon my arrival at their now opened brick-and-mortar shop at 11am to a line-up out the door of at least 100 people, and a gentleman slightly ahead of me holding a handwritten sign that says “Last Man Standing”. I am deflated as I am informed that he is the last person who is guaranteed brisket today. I had heard that they sold out every day by early afternoon, but I am still shocked. These folk truly love their BBQ!
Gutted, I am quickly consoled by an employee offering Lone Star beer for 2 bucks a pop. I decided to stick it out and almost an hour later I finally find myself inside the door. The carnivore frenzy occurring inside is not for the faint of heart, as I see men, women, children, tightly squeezed at each table, devouring many pounds of delicious BBQ goodness. I am not sure if it is the fact that that I haven’t eaten a real meal since Los Angeles two days earlier or if it is this visual onslaught mixed with the heady smell of burning oak, but I feel lightheaded and dizzy. I have come so far, feet don’t fail me now. Conveniently, another cheap Lone Star helps me straighten out long enough to order.
Inside, the décor of Franklin is simple and non-descript, and the menu is found written on meatpacking paper taped to the wall. Basically, there are three things you can order which are Brisket, Pork Ribs, and Pulled Pork. Each is available by the pound or the plate; the plate comes with the choice of customary sides of potato salad, slaw, or beans. This is as simple, as it gets. But you don’t come to Franklin for fancy, interesting, or nouveau, you come for flavour and it is here that Franklin delivers the goods with gusto. I order the Brisket plate and although the sides are fine I immediately regret it, as this joint is really all about the meat. I implore you not to make the same mistake. Order it by the pound to get the full satisfaction, unadorned by BBQ sauce of any sort.
The brisket naked on its own is perfect – on the outside a crispy flavourful crust is formed by the fire licking the season rub , followed by a permeating ring of smoke that rounds the inside, and then the melt in your mouth moist tenderness of the flesh itself. It all speaks of a quality of cooking that I have never tasted before in brisket or in all of BBQ for that matter. This process begins with the sourcing of the meat which comes from Montana and is humanely raised containing no antibiotics or hormones. Then after it is well seasoned with salt and pepper only, the meat is slow roasted for 18 hours at 250 degrees Fahrenheit in a traditional long smoker found outside at the back of the building which burns only the finest oak wood available locally. At last, upon inspection by second generation pit master Aaron Franklin, each brisket when deemed ready is wrapped in tin foil and laid to rest while waiting to be carved for your eating pleasure. Make sure you ask for some from the fatty end, and after your first bite you too will know that your journey to eat some real BBQ has ended here.
John Paul McFarland is a Toronto based Writer, DJ, Cook, Sports Fanatic, Theatre Enthusiast, and Film Geek, but mostly obsessed with Sixties Soul, Afro Funk, and Good Eats. He would love to one day eat for a living, but fears he would develop gout like that former NY Times food critic did. So instead, he cooks.