Ready, Set, Fire!

The young guns of Austin barbecue

Franklin Barbecue

900 E. 11th, 653-1187
Tuesday-Sunday, 11am until sold out (often 1pm; be in line by 9:30am)

Aaron Franklin, the most congenial pit boss in town, learned his craft very well while working for his folks at their barbecue place in Bryan, working with John Mueller at his old John Mueller's BBQ on Manor Road, and smoking up a storm in his backyard for friends. Franklin's vintage trailer operation started small, with Mueller's old pit, and rapidly grew into a huge success. Now, Franklin and crew are settled in nicely at their brick-and-mortar location, the radically renovated remains of the old Ben's Long Branch Bar-B-Q (and before that, Willy's Bar-B-Q), just east of I-35 on 11th Street.

What stayed the same as at Franklin's old trailer location up the freeway was the enthusiasm of the mob; his devotees had no trouble finding the new spot. Almost from day one, it was like the morning-forming line had been picked up on Concordia Street and teleported down to 11th. Some days, it starts forming at 7am, and the line can grow to 250 folks or so. Not that they'll all get served before it sells out; an employee monitor takes pre-orders, and then tries to figure out who the last person to receive the holy sacrament will be. It's the greedy bastards that leave with huge multipound packages that screw it for the rest. Franklin and crew can only cook so much on the four big smokers, and then it's gone until the next day.

To further complicate the manic nature of the devotion, Bon Appétit said Franklin's "bricks-and-mortar restaurant serves what we're calling the best BBQ in Texas, if not America." The bottom line is that Aaron and wife Stacy are devoted to producing the best-tasting barbecue they possibly can, and they won't sacrifice that quality to feed more folks. They've considered expanding a little, but the city won't let them add more seating without building more bathrooms; do that, and it gets very expensive.

The custom-made sausage ($10 per pound) is outstanding: medium-textured and smoky with a snappy casing, it's spicy and juicy with rich garlicky flavor. The brisket (natural Angus, $16 per pound) is superb: a thick, smoky, spicy bark and a deep smoke ring, it's exceedingly moist and tender with intense, beefy flavor. Get it from the point end and nibble on the "sugar cookies" (the crusty little nodules of caramelized fat and spice). The pork ribs ($14 per pound) are perfection: tender without being mushy, juicy, smoky, and assertively spiced. Franklin's luscious pulled pork and moist turkey (both $13 per pound) don't get as much press, but they deserve it.

Sides ($1.35/$4.50/$8.50) are good, but could use a little punching up. You don't normally pick a barbecue joint for its sides, though; the vegetables are just there to keep things regular. The sauce options include sweet, espresso (pitch dark with a hint of coffee), and pork (peppery, thin, and vinegary). We recommend mixing the sweet and espresso sauces half-and-half, and then adding a dab of the pork for balance. We use a little sauce with the pulled pork; god forbid you use it on the ribs or brisket!

The ecstatic moaning and groaning in the dining room might make a blind man think he had stumbled onto a porn set, but it's just regular folks enjoying some really, really good barbecue. We should all be glad that Franklin decided to listen to his smoky muse. This is truly delicious barbecue, worthy of the wait, the mania, and devotion, and well worth the price of admission. It ain't hype if it's true! – Mick Vann.

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