900 East 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78702
Phone: (512) 653-1187
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-SOLD OUT; Closed Mondays
Hype. It is a mysterious thing, often with even more mysterious origins. Sometimes hype is a matter of being a flavor of the moment. Other times, hype is the result of being the oldest or the biggest, or just being in the right place at the right time. Other times, hype is something altogether different. Sometimes, hype is because, plain and simply, a place is just so good people can’t stop talking about it.
I admit to being a bit suspicious of hype. Too many times, a visit to a buzzy spot drips with disappointment. But, every so often, the buzz is valid and worth every hoop you have to jump through for the experience.
Keeping the skepticism firmly in check, I ventured to Franklin Barbecue on a recent Sunday morning around 9:45 a.m. As you have likely heard, Franklin Barbecue opens its doors at 11 a.m., and is open only until the day’s wares are sold out. Even at 9:45 a.m., a number of people were already waiting eagerly for the doors to open.
After a bit of standing in line, a Franklin employee starts at the front of the line, and walks down the queue asking each customer how much of each kind of meat he or she plans to order, making notes on a clipboard. If the employee reaches a point at which the day’s wares would be sold out by the contemplated orders, the patron placing the final anticipated order is designated as “end of the line,” and the remaining people in line are out of luck for the day.
Once the clock strikes 11 a.m., the doors open, letting the lucky first people in line through the doors to head to the counter for their orders. By this time, the smell of slow cooking meats is so overwhelming, the inside wait seems almost unbearable. Once inside, the menu is handwritten on paper on the walls, and includes a range of meats, sides, sodas, beers, and desserts.
The mastermind behind Franklin Barbecue, Aaron Franklin, greets customers behind the counter, making small talk, giving suggestions, and hand-cutting customer orders. The degree of Franklin’s celebrity is downright stunning. Most folks in line had cameras, and clicked away as he spoke to other customers and prepared orders. A group of twentysomethings in line before us had traveled to Austin from Tampa, largely for the chance to taste Franklin’s wares. The Sunday we visited was their second day of standing in line and trying to make it to the Franklin counters to order.
In light of the extended wait in line, I had decided to order enough food both for lunch and to take home for later. I opted for a Tipsy Texan sandwich with potato salad and a side of beans for lunch, and then brisket, turkey, and pulled pork to take home. After watching the juicy meats being prepped for orders and smelling the delicious odors wafting from the smoker, my anticipation was definitely growing for this meal.
I had heard great things about the Tipsy Texan sandwich, and was even more excited after seeing Mr. Franklin put it together. The Tipsy Texan was, quite simply, one of the most delicious sandwiches I have ever tasted. The Tipsy Texan features a bun piled high with freshly chopped bits of Franklin brisket, which is topped with tangy, fresh cole slaw and pickles, and finished off with delicious sausage. The sandwich is massive, but so delicious, that I was eating it long after it was a good idea. But seriously, this sandwich alone is worth a 90 minute wait.
Lucky for us, though, the sandwich was just the start. Up next was the brisket. About the brisket, I am speechless. Franklin’s brisket deserves every accolade it’s received. The meat is peppery, smoky, and so ridiculously tender it feels downright sinful. The meat melts in your mouth, and certainly leaves no questions about why Bon Appetit named Franklin Barbecue the Best BBQ Restaurant in America.
Next up was the pulled pork. The pork was certainly tender and well prepared, but lacked the spice and levels of flavor that the brisket boasted. From there we moved to the turkey, which closely rivaled the brisket in deliciousness. Just before wrapping the slices of turkey, Franklin added his finishing touch–grabbing a ladle of juices that had dripped off the meats and pouring over the turkey slices, to ensure they stayed moist and tender. Thanks to the drippings, the turkey was juicy, even upon rewarming the next day. It was also peppery and leveled with flavor.
Finally, we sampled two of the sides–beans and potato salad. The beans were perfectly cooked and tender, but lacked seasoning, and were unfortunately forgettable. The potato salad, on the other hand, was perfectly tasty, and a nice accompaniment to the mounds of meat we were eating. However, I would say if you are weighing how much you will be able to manage before you fill up, opt for more meat, and skip the sides. The meat is definitely the star at Franklin, so save your space for brisket, turkey, or the amazing Tipsy Texan sandwich.
A lunch at Franklin Barbecue is definitely a production. You likely will be in line for an hour or more, and a bit more time once the door opens. But something about the pomp and production makes the meal more special. The smells, the excitement, and the dangling possibility that you’ll be right behind the person holding the “end of line” sign makes a victory and success at the counter all the more exciting. But all that aside, Franklin is worth it, plain and simply, for the craftsman-like preparation of the meats they offer. Tasting it, you definitely get the sense that you are a part of something special–something you want to wrap up a bit of to savor later, just in case it is the last chance you get to taste something so unusually and simply great.