In Austin/ Food/ Restaurant Reviews/ Texas/ Travel Destinations/ USA

Skip breakfast in Texas // Franklin’s BBQ in Austin

Franklin Austin

The legend that is Franklin Barbecue stretches far beyond its home-city of Austin, Texas.

What began life back in 2009 as a simple food truck just off the interstate has now become an undisputed Austin institution, a rite of passage for meat-loving tourists, and a veritable goldmine for owners Aaron and Stacy Franklin – so far the brand has generated a bestselling BBQ cookbook, a popular web series, an always-rammed trailer at SXSW, a line of BBQ sauces, and a PBS TV show, as well as multiple prestigious awards.

Franklin Austin

It’s saying something that this no-frills, unassuming restaurant, seating perhaps 100 diners at most along shared wooden benches, has exploded onto the national consciousness in recent years because, if Texas is known for one thing, apart from, you know, all the other things it’s known for, it’s good barbecue.

This is, after all, where American barbecue was (arguably) invented, and certainly where the art was perfected, by German and Czech settlers bringing with them across the Atlantic their smokers and crafty sausage-making techniques. A tradition of church and political socials taking place over barbecue developed, complimented by a booming Texan cattle industry and the emancipation of slaves, many of whom looked to barbecue pits as a source of income as freemen. What was once an inexpensive and efficient way of preparing food for migrating cotton pickers has now been refined to the point that there are over 100 BBQ cook-offs in Texas every year, with West, East and Central Texas all having their own particular styles.

Franklin Austin

There are two reasons why Franklin is regarded as THE place to eat barbecue in Austin. The first is the undeniable quality of the food on offer – a typical lunch menu here might be composed of luscious strips of brisket that has been smoked over oak for 12-18 hours until it melts in the mouth, or heaped plates of turkey, sausage and ribs that have had similar attention lavished upon them, accompanied by generous sides of potato salad and slaw, with a dangerously-tempting range of mouthwatering dessert pies from bourbon banana to key lime if your stomach is up to the challenge.

Secondly, and quite likely the principal cause of Franklin’s notoriety, is the length of time customers must wait before they get served. It’s not unknown for people to queue for anywhere up to six hours for their food – come rain or shine, you take your turn in the line outside that stretches down the block and around the corner. Some even take their place before dawn during busy weeks in order to be first in the door when it opens at 11am. I actually heard of one person who queued for almost ten hours and still considered it worth the wait.

To accommodate this staggering level of demand, the restaurant gets through upwards of 20,000lbs of brisket alone, every month, with the smokers starting up in the scarily-early hours of the morning.

Franklin Austin Franklin Austin

Some prefer to skip the queue. You can order ahead to walk right in the door and pick up your food, but you need to book several weeks in advance. There are many other good BBQ joints in Austin, so many locals have somewhat lost interest in the Franklin phenomenon by now, but those that still can’t resist a fix will sometimes pay an industrious soul to hold their place in the line for them.

We stopped by Franklin for lunch on a Tuesday morning back in March 2015, assuming the line would be fairly light. Taking our places just after 10am, we eventually sat down to eat about four hours later, sanity and appetite completely intact. Some say the restaurant has peaked, and something of a backlash can be detected among locals and visitors alike, who feel the food isn’t worth the wait. In our case, as first-time customers, we would say that on the contrary, the wait was actually an integral part of the experience, heightened by flurries of excitement like a Mexican wave as you moved forward a few feet every twenty minutes, and the ecstasy of finally arriving at the stairs where tantalising aromas wafted down every time the door opened to let someone inside, like the pearly gates swinging apart to admit another happy soul.

Even on what was a pretty hot morning, it was never especially uncomfortable. Complimentary folding chairs are provided, and staff members regularly walk the line to serve refreshing cold beers and encourage anyone thinking of calling it a day to stay the course. And the time does pass remarkably quickly, especially once you get talking to the folks ahead of and behind you. Within a few minutes of arrival we’d met a couple of English guys in Austin on a break from a work assignment in Houston, and a friendly bunch of Texans all visiting from out of town and choosing to hold their get-together in the line for Franklin, with a cooler of beer and a pack of cards. People were working on their laptops, playing board games, or just getting steadily more tipsy as the morning wore on.

Franklin Austin

By the time we joined the queue a lot of the meat options were already sold out (staff take your order while you’re waiting), but luckily there was still heaps of brisket available, the Franklin speciality. Smoked at 225-250 degrees over dry post oak that has itself been cured for up to a year for maximum potency, the beef is tender, moist and positively dripping with flavour. The tender strips of brisket are served on their own, the quality of the meat and the cooking speak for themselves, but you have the option to drizzle it with Aaron’s signature sauce if you prefer. Most don’t, preferring to savour the taste of the meat instead. Here in Texas adding sauce is often seen as poor form. We added a string of delicious, juicy sausages and some slaw on the side and half an hour later pretty much rolled out the door, the stains of meat juice on our t-shirts akin to battlefield trophies.

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While it has deservedly achieved cult status, Franklin is by no means the only place in Austin you can get great barbecue, Stiles Switch being another notable example where you’ll wait for considerably less time to get served. If you like your meat barbecued to perfection you can also find happiness at Prause Meat Market in La Grange, Smitty’s in Lockhart, and Killens in Pearland, to name but a few.

And it’s not confined to Texas – we’ve eaten fingerlickin’ good pulled pork at Central in Memphis, Tennessee, and a memorable plate of sticky ribs at Porker’s in Chattanooga, where they let you bring your own beer. Other hotbeds of good BBQ in the States include Georgia, Mississippi and Montana, and also Kentucky where in some areas they specialise in lamb, something you don’t often find elsewhere.

But if you’re Austin-way, be sure and clear a morning for Franklin Barbecue. Pack a folding chair, a few beers and a good book, and bring an appetite. It’s worth its wait in brisket.

Franklin Barbecue 

Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11am until sold-out; lunch only


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Linking up with the fabulous Packing My Suitcase & My Travel Monkey for Monday Escapes and Mummy Travels for City Tripping

 


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  • Jennifer Howze

    We love Franklin’s Barbecue. We took the kids a couple of years ago and now they talk assuredly about what makes good barbecue, a lengthy wait being a litmus test in their eyes. If you’re interested, you can see my post here. http://www.jenography.net/2013/09/is-franklin-barbecue-really-the-best-in-the-world/

    • one tiny leap

      It was the best, and I completely agree with you – the queue is almost a destination in itself with such a great festival vibe. Loved reading your post, took me straight back!

  • Passports & Pigtails

    This place looks amazing! (And that brisket!!!) I love that food trucks have made such a fabulous burst on the food scene, and places like this give the high end places such a run for their money!

    • one tiny leap

      I know…that brisket just melted! I loved the simplicity of it all, just pure, great food!

  • What a great read! The madness of waiting in line that long with a hungry belly is just insane but it sounds worth the effort – though I do believe my kids would be utterly loopy by that point!!

    • one tiny leap

      Thanks Keri 🙂 The line is so worth the effort, plus it’s an experience in itself! Charlie seemed to have a good time, between stickers, books and meeting new people there was plenty to do 😀

  • Goodness me, I think I have just added Austin Texas to my travel list for this alone! I also have a friend who has recently moved there so double reason to go….apart from the fact that we happen to live on the other side of the world at the moment in South Africa! #MondayEscapes

    • one tiny leap

      YES! It’s so worth it, plus Austin is epic, such a beautiful city. A bit far from SA, but definitely worth the loooong flight 🙂

  • Good to know! Im headed to Texas this week to visit my mom and find my wedding dress…may need to try to squeeze this non-wedding-diet-acceptable meal in! #MondayEscapes

    • one tiny leap

      Haha!! Did you manage to go there? I hope you found your wedding dress 😀

  • This looks amazing! It was fun to learn about the history of BBQ as well as read about your experience in Austin.

    http://passportcouture.com

    • one tiny leap

      Thank you! 🙂

  • I need to visit this place one day. I lived in Austin one summer. Those were the days before Franklin and all the craziness that surround the city now. I had a great time there and have been wanting to return. I like the option of ordering and picking up. I have to remember that.

    • one tiny leap

      It’s got to be one of my favourite cities and I’d love to experience living there for a bit. You definitely have to try it out 🙂

  • Wow, that is some serious waiting time! Not sure if I could do it, but can see why people would – food sounds and looks delicious, and the activity that goes on while in line entertainment in and of itself. #mondayescapes

    • one tiny leap

      It’s definitely worth it – a great way to spend a morning in Austin 😀

  • This food sounds amazing, I’ve read so many things about how incredible it is – but a four-hour wait is quite a investment of time! It definitely sounds part of the whole experience though and I’m already feeling a bit hungry thinking about it…. Thanks for linking up to #citytripping

    • one tiny leap

      It is a long time, but a great way to meet some locals, drink some beer and get in to the Texan way of life 😉

  • Wander Mum

    Wow! I never imagined people would queue up that long for bbq meat…it must be something special. I am very impressed at your stamina. I know for sure that my husband would be fed up after 10 minutes. I do like brisket though….looks delicious. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    • one tiny leap

      I know, it sounds like a long time, but really it’s totally worth it. I had seen Franklin in Anthony Bourdain’s show before we travelled so we were set on going there 🙂

  • Oh. Gosh. My mouth is watering at the moment not only at the finger lickin fab photos but your descriptions. You had me at brisket and 12 hours… I LOVE bbq food, I’m a real carnivore and a massive fan of Man v Food – so Austin looks like a place I really need to add to my USA bucket list. I’m so hungry and jealous now! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

  • Okay, I’ll admit, I saw the first part – Skip Breakfast in Texas – and thought, “What the heck? We have some great…oooh…” Yeah, if you’re going to Franklin’s you’ll be in line instead of at breakfast. And you will want the extra room in your belly. 🙂 As soon as I started reading, I swear I could smell the smoke. And then, pictures of the ‘cue had my mouth watering. Too far from Franklin’s today, but thankfully we have some great joints in DFW too. For anyone visiting the Austin area, I’d also suggest Salt Lick BBQ (at the original Driftwood location) and John Mueller Meat Company. Some say it’s as good as – or better than (blasphemers!) Franklin’s! Mmmmm…great post!

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