At no other restaurant in America do diners enter in worse shape than at Franklin’s Barbecue, crown jewel of Central Texas barbecue restaurants and home of the reigning king of brisket, pitmaster Aaron Franklin. At least, I considered this as I waited in line outside the dining room, the inner chamber of this temple of smoked meat, awaiting the ambrosial ecstasies inside the holy of holies. It was 11:50 in the morning, and I had been waiting in line since 7:45. I was sweaty and fighting irritability, and despite the two espressos I had knocked back since my arrival, purchased at the coffee trailer adjacent to Franklin’s parking lot, I was tired. But nothing compared to the hunger I felt, goaded over four hours by the aroma of woodsmoke and slowly rendering animal fat. The anticipation with which I planned my first bite of a burnt end was both tantalizing and excruciating, egged on by lingering suspicion that no food could really be this good. “What cruel torture is this!” I thought. But by 12:30pm, Franklin’s would again prove that their barbecue really is that good.
Before I get to the food, here are a few pro-tips:
Early birds get the brisket. On weekends, I recommend showing up no later than 8:00am to ensure that you will get your fill of smoked meat.
Make friends. The camaraderie created in line by fellow meat devotees is akin to that between simpatico strangers who have shared a long plane ride. Exchanges of phone numbers are not uncommon.
Take care of your vitals. Get plenty of rest the night before. Eat an early breakfast—starving yourself beforehand as a strategy for maximum enjoyment is regarded as such only by the uninitiated. Bring an ice chest with plenty of water, as it can get very hot in Texas for much of the year.
Loosen up. Add a few adult beverages to your ice chest, as Franklin’s line is BYOB. This will help with making friends. Be warned: Franklin’s vigilant employees will throw you out if you overindulge.
Skip the line and order ahead…way ahead. On the first Monday of each month ordering opens up online for hot sliced food, the minimum order being 5 pounds. Once they fill up, orders for hot food will be replaced by orders for chilled briskets.
Roll the dice. Show up around 1pm-1:30pm and order a Tipsy Texan sandwich, thus avoiding the long wait and you get to taste a variety of Franklin’s offerings.
And now, for the food. I recommend getting everything.
Sides Traditional pinto beans, potato salad and coleslaw. Straightforward, delicious and refreshing.
Brisket Full disclosure: Despite my hyperbolic praise throughout this review, this requires some qualification. Barbecue is traditionally judged on the basis of a particular cut of meat on a particular day. On the day of this review, the brisket on my plate, while cooked perfectly as on my four previous visits, was over seasoned. I suspect that it was seasoned twice by mistake. An unfortunate aberration from the norm, to be sure. That being said, my first ever bite of Franklin’s brisket over two years ago nearly brought me to tears, and it hasn’t dropped an ounce in quality since.
Pork ribs The winner of the day. The best rib I’ve ever eaten by a long shot. The heady pork and smoke flavor flooded my brain with so much dopamine it told my stomach I was “satisfied” after just one rib. Lies, I said.
Sausage The only food offered that isn’t made start to finish in house, the sausage is made by Texas Sausage Company just down the road. I can still hear the snap of the casing ringing in my ears.
Turkey I am not allowed to say it is better than my mother’s Thanksgiving turkey.
Tipsy Texan A sandwich so rich, it took three of us to put it away. Heaped with chopped beef, pulled pork, and sausage.