I'm a born skeptic. It's probably why I'm still alive*. And as a citizen of a city where folks will line up to wait for anything from excellent burgers to mediocre cupcakes to the opportunity to be told they can't enter because they don't have the correct sexual apparatus, I'm extra-skeptical of any place where people are willing to wait more than two hours just for a few bites of food. Throw in a few pairs of skinny jeans, some heavy-rimmed glasses and beards, and you've got a near-perfect recipe for over-hypedom.
*I'm also a born hyperbolist.
So it was only through your hearty Tweeting that I decided to bite the bullet and jump in line at 9:30AM on an overcast Saturday in front of Franklin Barbecue when I was in Austin last week.
Man, oh man, am I glad I did. What I found at the end of that line (about 2 1/2 hours later) was nothing short of barbecue nirvana. Sweet, succulent pulled pork. Turkey as moist as a prime rib. Snappy sausage as juicy as you'd like, and brisket that defied everything I ever knew or thought I knew about brisket. I can't tell you with 100% certainty that this is the finest brisket in all the land, but it's certainly the best I've ever had. Better than Black's. Better than Smitty's.
Many of you will know the story by now. The restaurant started as nothing more than a young kid with a pit, a turquoise trailer, and a strange coffee-spiked sauce back in 2009. It quickly developed a rabid following, with folks lining up for hours to taste his soon-to-be legendary beef. Soon he outgrew his trailer and moved to his current digs on East 11th Street where the lines followed. There are days where the lines are so long that the "Sold Out!" sign will go up in the window before the restaurant has even opened—indicating that you can wait in line if you want, but chances are good that there will be no food left by the time you get to the front.
Yet Aaron Franklin is not just the know-nothing, DIY upstart that he's sometimes portrayed as. Indeed, he got is start with John Mueller, son of Louis Mueller, a legendary Texas barbecue king in his own right. According to Texas Monthly, when John Mueller's restaurant closed for good in 2006, Aaron picked up his Mueller's old pit and started testing the brisket that would eventually become his signature item.
John Mueller has since returned to open his eponymous JMueller barbecue trailer, spawning stories of Star Wars-esque "The master is now the apprentice" stature. The one time I tried to get to JMueller, he was sold out by 1pm, so I can't comment on their relative merits. By most accounts, they're both awesome in their own right.
Things really picked up when Bon Appétit boldly named Franklin The Best BBQ Restaurant in America. I'm guessing that the author has not actually been to all the BBQ restaurants in America (and by his own admission was not a fan of Texas barbecue before trying Franklin), but if not the best, Franklin is certainly in the upper, upper echelon.
If you've been out to Lockhart or one of the other Austin satellites known for their BBQ culture, you'll have seen the traditional brick pits used to smoke meats. These pits run pretty hot—some say up to 500°F, though I have a hard time believing that; I've never seen meat last longer than an hour under that kind of heat without burning to a crisp—but Franklin heads in the opposite direction, slow-smoking his brisket for up to 15 hours at a time, leading to meat that barely holds its form, but quite literally melts on the tongue as soon as you place it in your mouth. It's extraordinary stuff.
Even before you get to that line, you may find yourself questioning whether or not it's all worth it. Here's a quick slideshow to show you exactly what you should expect to find at the end of that line. In all honesty, it was not an unpleasant experience. I got plenty of reading and writing done, I met a few nice folks, and there was plenty of ice cold Big Red and Shiner Bock to help pass the time.
Take a peep through the slideshow for a closer look at the experience, as well as everything on their menu.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.