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Monday, January 25, 2016

Jay takes on Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX

by Jay Ducote

Ever since I began dabbling in competitive barbecue and crafting my own barbecue sauce, Austin, Texas, has been at the top of my culinary bucket list. I recently had the opportunity to spend a couple weeks there, mostly eating and drinking my way around the city. Due to my everlasting love of the 'que, I've decided to divide my experience into three posts: Franklin Barbecue, other barbecue, and the best of everything else I ate in Austin. Check back for the other installments later.

A huge part of Austin barbecue culture isn't actually in Austin. Towns like Lockhart outside of Austin are home to some of the most historic central Texas barbecue joints. To really get a full experience of the circuit you'll need a car to get around and an extra stomach or hollow leg so you can move on to your next meat sweat.

However, I'll have to save that road trip for another time. On this trip, I got around Austin on foot and with the help of friends and Uber, so I didn't get to make the trip to Lockhart.

That being said, there's some serious barbecue happening these days inside the Austin city limits. The most famous of those is inarguably Franklin Barbecue.

Zac Jiwa and Jay Ducote prepare themselves for Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX
Zac Jiwa and Jay Ducote prepare themselves for Franklin Barbecue in Austin

Joined by my friends Zac Jiwa and Andrew Lee, I arrived at Franklin for the four hour wait to eat Aaron Franklin's prized brisket. That may seem crazy, and it is, but if you know how to do it right, it really isn't THAT bad.

It kind of felt like a tailgate party before a game.

First, we got breakfast tacos before heading to Franklin to get in line at 9 a.m. Zac brought bag chairs, and most people in line were playing games or chatting with friends. After finishing up the breakfast tacos, Zac and I got coffee from a nearby coffee trailer.

At one point some people who work at Franklin's walked by and asked what we intended to order. They were getting a count so they knew how far down the line they'd go before they ran out of food. We were told that we'd be eating around 1 p.m. I knew it was time for a beer, which we should have brought with us, but fortunately Zac took the short walk to a nearby store for a six pack.

The line started to move at 11 a.m., and we put up our bag chairs rather than try to keep up with moving them. As the line crept along and the people who arrived earliest began to eat, the liveliness of the crowd picked up. A group of dudes who were there for a bachelor party had pretty mixed feelings about whether or not it would be worth waiting in that long of a line starting that early in the morning with a hangover. That honestly may have kept me away!

A view inside Franklin Barbecue from the door, still waiting in line
A view inside Franklin Barbecue from the door, still waiting in line

When we finally got to the front of the line, sure enough right around the time predicted, we ordered like smoked meat champions.

Three pounds of brisket, mixed between the point and the flat (or moist and lean), three bones of pork spare ribs, half a pound of pulled pork and a couple links of sausage. We knew were in for some pain, but none of us cared. Andrew and Zac both live in Austin and had experienced Franklin before, but they were just as thrilled to be there for my first experience. Plus, with the wait and with having other really great barbecue just around the corner, it's not like either of them had been to Franklin recently.

A photo posted by Jay Ducote (@jayducote) on

The reason to go to Franklin is the brisket. Its reputation as the best brisket on the planet made me wonder if it can live up to that hype. I had my doubts. I mean, I expected it to be really fantastic, but I've had some really great briskets in my day, and I didn't know if the brisket on this one particular Friday afternoon would hold up to its end of the bargain.

It did. Enough for me to name it one of the top five bites of 2015.

The ribs and pulled pork were good, but not amazing. However, the brisket is what beefy, fatty dreams are made of. I'd go back and order nothing but brisket.

Aaron Franklin talks barbecue with Andrew and Zac while Jay admires the smokers
Aaron Franklin talks barbecue with Andrew and Zac while Jay admires the smokers

Aaron Franklin, true to his reputation, was there at Franklin Barbecue. A film crew working on something for Andrew Zimmern and Travel Channel was actually there too. I got to meet Aaron and talk shop with him for a little bit. He brought us to his smokehouse where all of his enormous offset smokers were lined up. It made for a pretty cool day, for sure.