Fed Man 55: Franklin Barbecue (8)
Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 8: Franklin Barbecue
900 E. 11th St. 512-653-1187, www.franklinbarbecue.com.
Hours: Tue-Sun 11am until sold out (usually two or three hours). Closed Mon.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 12.16.12
When I started the Fed Man 55, Franklin Barbecue was No. 2 on a list I’d made a few months earlier: Austin’s Top 10 BBQ. It was a dead-heat, but the edge went to JMueller BBQ for the top spot. But then John Mueller was let go — loudly and publicly — from the trailer that bore his name. Until somebody barrels up the hill to knock Aaron Franklin off, that makes Franklin king of the hill. And in this town, having the best barbecue means automatic membership in the Top 10 restaurant club.
Having the best barbecue means brisket as juicy as a backyard burger, the result of fat slow-smoked a few degrees shy of rendered liquid amber, sealed by bark that crunches with pepper and caramelization. It means pork ribs just starting to curl from the tip of the bone, with an endearing shaggy sweetness at the other end. It means pulled pork with crust and fat and lean in easy shreds. And the best barbecue sandwich in town, with chopped beef, sausage and slaw.
Don’t take my word for it. Bon Appetit said Franklin has the best barbecue in the whole country. He’s been a judge on a pitmaster reality show. Anthony Bourdain used extra-bad language to describe his extra-good brisket. And people are still lining up before breakfast just to have lunch with him. In fact, if you’re reading this with your second cup of coffee, you’re already too late.
The power of well-smoked meat clouds the fact that sides are beside the point here and that the bare-floored dining room is about as intimate as a carnival sideshow, because the slow-shuffling line doesn’t have much else to look at besides you. There’s no table service, just ordering at the cutting station by the pound ($10-$16) and by the plate ($8-$13 with two sides). But there’s local beer and something else, that thing serious Texas barbecue people aren’t supposed to talk about: sauce worth taking about.
Franklin’s smoky-sweet espresso sauce was born when his business was just a trailer sitting next to a coffee roaster in 2009, before he moved into a legendary old barbecue building on the East Side in 2011, a building not quite big enough to hold a barbecue giant.
(TOP: Fatty and lean brisket; "Sold Out" is just another day at Franklin; pulled pork. INSET: Pork ribs; sausage and a burnt end; the dining room. BELOW: The line means lunch at Franklin takes several hours; Franklin makes its own barbecue sauces. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants