It’s pretty difficult to define what barbecue actually is. Is it purely meat that’s been smoked for a long period of time? Or does it have to do with when the sauce is applied to the meat? Should one use a dry rub or a wet marinade? Is sauce actually a necessary ingredient to be considered barbecue? Beef, pork or maybe chicken? Does grilling meat over charcoal constitute being considered true barbecue?
The great debate over what barbecue actually is probably won’t be resolved anytime soon. It’s better to accept the fact that there are too many styles to even mention.
At Franklin Barbecue, what you get is traditional Texas-style barbecue that’s been smoking through the late hours of the night using Post Oak as the smoking weapon of choice. Touted as the best barbecue in the country, I knew I had to get my fix if I ever got the chance to visit Austin. Honestly, I was ready for my dreams to be shattered. I had built up the hype inside my head for years and there was no way that reality could actually surpass what I had been envisioning of this BBQ experience.
Everything is Bigger in Texas… Even the Lines
As stated on their website, hours of operation are from 11:00 am until SOLD OUT. How can this be? There’s no way that they expect to sell out each and every day. This has got to be some marketing ploy to get people to come.
I couldn’t believe it.
This place was only opened for lunch Tuesday to Sundays and they had a line every day of the week – no exceptions. I knew that Franklin’s was notorious for their wait times, with lines known to snake in to the parking lot, but I didn’t know the meaning of “long line” until I saw this behemoth.
I got there on a Friday, definitely not a good day if you plan on an early lunch, at around 8:30 am just to be safe. Well, I found out quickly that I probably would’ve been better off pitching a tent and camping out the night before. No joke, by the time I got there the line had already spilled into the back parking lot. The fact that the line itself has its own Twitter handle should’ve been a sign that there’s no chance in avoiding the inevitable; you can check it out at @FranklinBBQline – they post a picture of the line daily.
Right off the bat, I knew this was going to test my patience and how much I really wanted to try the “Best BBQ” in the country. Everyone in line knew there wasn’t going to be any funny business – no cutsies or else. But the fact that they actually have “A Line Manifesto” posted at various checkpoints in the line was actually pretty amusing.
Everyone in line seemed to be from out of town. Behind me was a group of guys visiting Austin for a bachelor party as well as a couple who were celebrating their anniversary from Toronto. In front of me was a guy going ham by himself from Chicago and a pair of buddies from Vallejo, California.
You are in line for a couple of hours, might as well make a few new friends. The guys behind me were definitely the most entertaining bunch. They had come prepared with a cooler full of beers and red bulls. Unfortunately, they had forgotten to bring some folding chairs so the quick fix was to make a CVS run and get some with the added bonus of a couple breakfast sandwiches from Wendy’s. They were definitely in it for the long haul, but so was I.
At around 9:30 am, we got the news that our section of the line was expected to get their grub at around 1:30 pm. Not entirely bad news I guess, At least now I had a mental countdown starting. As the minutes passed, people were beginning to leave the line. No doubt they had been told that they hadn’t made the cut or they just couldn’t handle the wait anymore.
Ten minutes before the doors were slated to open, the people in the front were folding up their borrowed folding chairs and returning them to the designated area. There was finally movement in the line. The line had compressed so much that my section of the line was finally able to escape the kiss of the blazing sun that day. We had made it to the promised land… the shaded section of the line. But our journey had yet to end. This was only a minor pit stop before we could actually get down and dirty with the barbecue that had been raved about.
Four Hours Later, and Still Just Enjoying the Scenery
Minute by minute we were getting closer to our estimated 1:30 pm lunch. Things were still under control. I was ready for people to get rowdy but things never got that far. The bachelor party group behind was definitely enjoying themselves. They had a game of slap the bag going with some Franzia they had acquired from CVS. That went on for quite some time.
By the time I had reached the ramp towards the door, the final leg of the race, I could already see people nomming on their barbecue and enjoying every morsel that it had to offer. I was ready, my stomach was definitely ready. I needed this barbecue more than ever.
Stepping into Franklin’s is probably the closest thing to walking into a foodie church – it’s really that close to a religious experience. The décor inside is simple, and the walls are covered with articles singing praises of Franklins Barbeque. But the main attraction is clearly the meat carvers who will be serving up your meat located at the front of the line.
Inching closer and closer, the time had finally arrived. I knew what I was going to order ever since I stepped on the plane to get to Texas. I got a pound of brisket, a quarter of it lean while the rest was fatty, five pork ribs, two sausage links and a quarter pound of turkey and pulled pork to round things off. There were only three sides so obviously I got a little of each which included potato salad, coleslaw and some pinto beans. The guy manning the cutting station was a meat artist to say the least. He cut up each piece of meat with the precision of a ninja wielding a samurai sword. No meat was left behind.
It was 1:10PM when I finally found a table, twenty minutes earlier than the expected guesstimation of 1:30PM. There was nothing standing between me and the lunch tray full of meat in front of me anymore, and it was time to finally dig in.
Believe the Hype
The first bite told me everything that I needed to know. The four and a half hour wait was totally worth it. This is what all barbecue aspires to become and I’m sad that I don’t have a plate of it in front of me right now. The first thing that I tried was the fatty brisket. This is what Texas-style BBQ is known for.
The meat was unbelievably juicy soaking through the paper mat that I used as a plate. No doubt there was definite lines of grease running down my chin. The brisket was only seasoned with a combination of salt and pepper but it tasted like nothing I had ever tasted. The smokiness imparted from the oak was definitely prevalent with high notes when I took a bite into the bark, the really crusty areas, of the brisket.
The ribs were spot-on. They had the perfect texture in every meaty bite with nothing falling off the bone. The meat was still intact when other barbecue joints will have it just barely hanging onto the ribs.
The pulled pork hadn’t been hacked to shreds like the pork found in the Carolinas. You could still tell it was originally a solid piece of pork butt, not really a pig’s butt, it’s actually a portion of the pig’s shoulder. The vinegar based barbecue sauce complemented it perfectly.
The surprise of the bunch was the turkey. I was expecting it to be super dry having spent so much time smoking but it was actually really flavorful and would’ve been a the clear winner at any Thanksgiving dinner.
The sides were all good in their own respect but were clearly playing second fiddle to all the smoked meats. Accompanying the mountain of meat were three sauce options: a vinegar based sauce, a Texas-style and an espresso barbecue sauce. By far the showstopper of the three was the espresso. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted in all the right ways. I used the sauces sparingly because, in all honesty, the meats didn’t need them.
This was by far a course in barbecue mastery for me. I don’t think I had ever eaten barbecue up until this moment, and I probably won’t be eating anything even close to this anytime soon.
So the real question to be answered is: Would I do it again? 100% yes. I would wait in line again for hours and hours, because now at least I know there would be a reward at the end of the rainbow. Glorious, glorious barbecue.
So if you’re ever in Austin, skip all the other attractions the city has to offer and make your way to Franklin Barbecue. This isn’t just a plate of barbecue, it’s about the experience of waiting in line, talking to your fellow man and finally tearing into a pile of meat. A true experience that you’ll never forget.