I’m a big fan of Texas barbecue, but had never been to its Mecca.
A year and a half ago I made Franklin Barbecue the first stop on my barbecue pilgrimage. I showed up long before opening, but the lines on a Saturday morning were already so long that I’d have to wait a couple of hours and the staff wouldn’t guarantee that there’d even be brisket left by the time I reached the front of the line. I was skeptical, given the party atmosphere in line, that the barbecue could be worth the wait — attractive young people tailgating couldn’t possible be there for the food as much as the experience, right?
But I’ve heard nothing since except that Franklin is the best in the world (technically, the best in Texas, but those two statements are more or less synonymous).
Still, I haven’t ever been in Austin midweek with the time to go when lines are shorter, or with the time to wait on a weekend to find out.
Fortunately I had the chance to attend a frequent flyer event, the Austin MegaDO, where one of the key attractions was a private dinner at Franklin Barbecue. No hours long lines, just frequent flyers and smoked meat.
And I’d finally get to find out if it lived up to the hype. Spoiler alert: It’s fantastic. The brisket is technically perfect. But – and this is definitely a minority view – I didn’t consider it to be the most flavorful I’ve had. Great, but not unequivocably “the best there is.”
I should qualify this by saying that I’ve only now been to Franklin once, and I need to try it more than a single time to render a useful judgment. And this was a private dinner, I need to compare it to standard opening hours — it’s conceivable that the brisket that cooks in the early hours of the morning is prepared differently than what they provide in the evening.
I arrived in Austin on Friday afternoon and had a chance to stop by the Starwood Preferred Guest reception at the Sheraton Austin. I drove there, it’s just a couple of blocks away from Franklin, and parked between the two stops in a strip mall.
The anchor of that mall — perfect for any frequent flyer gathering — is a CVS.
At about 7:30pm the group headed over to Franklin.
It was just our group, it’s a small restaurant comped to the usual demand but fit us perfectly.
There’s a handwritten menu on the wall you can see in line, and then a standard menu board when you reach the front.
Oddly, next to the register is the Travelocity gnome.
We had already pre-paid for the dinner as part of the event signup (apparently the Franklin Barbecue event sold out in 6 minutes!). It was somewhat subsidized, the Milepoint frequent flyer community that I co-founded helped to sponsor the evening.
You could have whatever you wished (including beer). I just asked for “as much moist brisket as you can give me, a rib, and sausage.”
It’s all about the sausage but I like to compare ribs, and the ‘snap’ in the sausage as well as the flavor.
There’s no question this was some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had. The brisket was moist without being especially fatty at all. But there’s the rub. Fat is flavor. So while was probably the most perfectly cooked brisket I’ve ever had, while it tasted great, it wasn’t the most flavorful brisket I’ve had. That honor has to go to Black’s —
Franklin’s rib was good. The sausage was fine, though I didn’t think it was standout.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to make it to Franklin, and to enjoy it in the company of other miles and points aficionados. And I can’t wait to visit again, get a second data point for comparison. But I’ll still make the trek out to Black’s in Lockhart — for the flavor, and because I won’t have to wait in line for two hours as well (although I’ll have to make the 30 minute drive from downtown Austin).