Monday, June 24, 2013

Franklin Barbecue

Updated in 2014

One word and everyone knows what you are talking about. Franklin. Aaron Franklin got his start in barbecue when he worked at his family's restaurant in Bryan. He eventually moved to Austin and started working at John Mueller B-B-Q. When John left the barbecue scene briefly, Aaron bought his smoker and the rest was history. Around my 30th birthday, I went to try out it. I had heard about the place from a friend. I got there 20 minutes before they opened to wait in line. The line moved pretty fast. Aaron and his wife were operating out of a trailer at the time. I tried the brisket, ribs, and sausage that day. I thought it was really good especially the ribs. I thought the moist brisket was better than most places, but the lean brisket was really salty. The sides were okay. I really do not eat a whole lot of sides when I go to BBQ restaurants now. It is all about the meat. That's what she said. Shortly after that, they opened a brick and mortar location downtown. Amber and I went and ended up waiting in line for over an hour. I thought the brisket was the best thing I have ever put in my mouth. We were hooked at that moment. A couple of months later, Bon App├ętit announced Franklin as the best BBQ restaurant in America. Franklin was on top of the Texas Monthly Top 50 list for 2013.

Most professional critics go to the same place three times before they write a review. I have been to Franklin a half dozen times now since it first opened. This review has been in the works for a very long time. There has been only one time since the initial visit that the brisket was not amazing. Franklin's off day is still better than most barbecue places' good day. This last time I went, the wait was almost two hours. I do not know if I am getting old or what, but I was very impatient this time. My iPhone was low on battery after the first hour of me playing on it. I should have charged it the night before, but I always try to go two days on a single charge. In the second hour, I was just standing there with my thoughts. That is rough especially when you are standing in line by yourself. The restaurant opens at 11 am, but I got there at 10 am. I was hoping the line was short because it was a Thursday. Boy it was wrong. It was about 30 people deep when I got there.

When I finally got to the counter, I ordered two slices of moist brisket, two pork ribs, and a link of sausage. Aaron was behind the counter taking orders and slicing the meats. He is very personable and can carry a conversation with you for a while. He always thanks you for coming in. The prices on their plates have gone up since I had been there. Getting the two meat plate used to be the better deal. The times I ordered by the pound, I spent more than I needed and had too much food. This time I felt like I ordered the perfect amount of food. I had a little left over which I am sure Amber was happy about. The brisket was excellent. It is definitely the best brisket I have ever had. It has a nice bark, and the meat is so tender with a good smoke ring. Aaron uses certified angus beef. Using a higher quality cut goes a long ways and it shows. The fat renders better in a quality brisket. I sometimes dip the brisket in the espresso sauce. The espresso sauce is thick and velvety but yet so smooth. The ribs just fall apart which are also excellent. I know a good rib is supposed to have a little give on the bone, but who cares? If the meat falls off the bone, it is cooked right in my opinion. The sausage is very good as well. I do not think he makes his own sausage, but the casing does have a nice pop to it. I have had the pulled pork in the past which I have enjoyed. I think the pulled pork I smoke is a little bit better. I have also tried the turkey which is good, but turkey is not my thing. 

When it comes to barbecue of late, I avoid the sides. I have gotten sides in the past here because it came with the combo plates. The coleslaw is my favorite side here. It is not heavy on mayonnaise and taste fresh. Franklin has a sandwich called the Tipsy Texan. It has to best sandwich in the world. In between two buns are chopped beef, sliced sausage, and coleslaw. What a great combination! It is messy, but it is so f-ing good. The beans are not bad and have bits of brisket in it. I am not a fan of their potato salad. It is mustard based which I do not like.

Franklin is a must for anyone who likes barbecue. It is barbecue bliss. You think you know what good barbecue is and then when you eat at Franklin, your whole world changes. You then start to look for places that serves better barbecue. At this point, I have yet to find anything better. My search continues. If you have not tried Franklin, definitely try it. It is worth standing in line at least once. I would love to eat at Franklin more, but I just do not have enough time to stand in line. Someone want to save me a spot? Grade: A+

Until next time, happy smoking...

Address: 900 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702
Phone: (512) 653-1187

Monday, June 17, 2013

Top 50 list

Believe it or not, I have not opened the magazine since I got it almost three weeks ago. This should have been like Christmas morning for me. I was out of town for a marathon; and when I went to pick up the mail, it was there. I actually saw the list online about a month ago when Texas Monthly released it on Twitter. Amber and I subscribed to Texas Monthly after reading the last list released back in 2008. This was the last issue we were getting in our current subscription. We are planning not to renew because I am pretty disappointed in the magazine over the current years. I feel like 75% of the pages are advertisements.

I waited to read this issue until I was ready to write this post. The article starts off by ripping other regional barbecue styles. I have only had Carolina pulled pork which I thoroughly enjoyed. I like smoking pulled pork because it is definitely easier than smoking brisket. One of days I will have to travel and try the other styles. Number one on the list is Franklin. Surprise, surprise. Not really. Ever since the second time I ate there, I knew it was going to be numero uno the next time the list came out. Did you know I have friends who have never eaten there? That amazes me. Rounding out the top four in no particular order are Snow's (Lexington), Louie Mueller (Taylor), and Pecan Lodge (Dallas). We have been meaning to make it to Snow's and Louie Mueller. They are within driving distance. We do not make it to Dallas enough, but next time, I will make sure we make it to Pecan Lodge.

There are others on the list I have heard of, but never been to. I am just going to quickly go over the ones I have been to.

Franklin Barbecue (Austin)- I have a review of Franklin ready to be posted next. Try it. Take a day off if you need to.

John Mueller Meat Co. (Austin)- I have not eaten here since he has moved to the new location. I have been to John Mueller's B-B-Q back in the day and most recently at JMueller BBQ. He had a falling out with his sister and moved. His sister then opened LA Barbecue once he left. I am fan of his barbecue even if he acts like a grouchy guy. He hooks you up with a free beer so he cannot be that bad. Beef rib is king here, but the brisket and sausage are great too. I will have to try out the new location. I stopped by one day, and he was out of everything but pork ribs.

La Barbecue (Austin)- They are operating where JMueller BBQ used to be. Their pitmaster is John Lewis who used to work at Franklin. I have stopped by for some moist brisket as a snack one day. I had some Vietnamese food for lunch right before, and on the way driving south, I saw no line and stopped by. I really liked the brisket. I would definitely go back.

Lambert's Downtown Barbecue (Austin)- I have mixed feelings about this place. It does have good barbecue, but it is a little bit pricey. They use a gassy smoker. Their sides are really good especially the macaroni and cheese. They also have a fantastic brunch.

Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (Austin)- Amber does not like this place. I like it fine. There is no line, and the food is good. They even gave me a free shirt one time when I wore a Franklin shirt there.

Black's Barbecue (Lockhart)- It is good. The beef ribs are huge here. They have a bunch of sides to choose from. You cannot go wrong getting any of the meats.

Kreuz Market (Lockhart)- I have yet to have a good experience with this place. I have been here twice. I thought the brisket, pork ribs, and sausage were okay. There are no forks or sauce. I have to try it again. We keep going later in the day, and that could be a reason why it is not up to par. I feel like barbecue is best when it is fresh and eaten earlier in the day.
Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que (Llano)- Disclaimer- I have been only to the one in New Braunfels. Apparently the one in Llano is so much better. The first time we went here we spent 70 bucks! We got brisket, sausage, prime rib, chicken, turkey, and pork chops. The prime rib was the only thing that stood out. They do give you free beans which are pretty good. We will have to try the one in Llano someday.

City Market (Luling)- We drive through Luling to go to Houston all the time. Every time we have driven through, it was too late, too early, or it was closed. We finally made a trip one time to try it out. It was good, but not great. I could get better barbecue without driving out of the way. It is worth a try though.

I read a lot of commentary on how certain places did not make the list. I was surprised that Smitty's (Lockhart) did not make the list. Amber and I love their sausage rings, and I used to think their brisket was the best. They made it back in 2008 as one of the top five. Apparently there was a lot of inconsistency in the meat when Texas Monthly visited. Another one people were questioning was The Salt Lick (Driftwood). I like The Salt Lick because it is all you can eat family style. It is also BYOB which is a plus. It is good, but the brisket is boring though. They recently started smoking beef ribs which are pretty good. My favorite quote from there was back in college, one of my drunk friends asked if they had "any dessert with meat in them." Micklethwait Craft Meats (Austin) was also another one people were questioning. It is definitely good. My review of it is in the works. It has not been opened for very long so it was not included on the list.

I am also going to go over ones I went to off the 2008 list.

Mann's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que (Austin)- I went here late one night, and it was okay. It all goes back to eating barbecue after 2pm or so effect. The quality is not at the prime later in the day. They have catered events at work before, and I think they are comparable to PoK-e-Jo's which is not a good thing.

Smitty's Market (Lockhart)- This used to be number one on my list until I tried Franklin. Apparently the quality has gone down. The last time I ate there was last summer, and I thought it was really good. The brisket was a little greasy though. I will make a return trip back soon to see what has happened there.

Tom and Bingo's Hickory Bar-B-Que (Lubbock)- We always wanted to try this place, but they have the weirdest hours. They are not open very late and not open on Sundays. Granted their hours are not that far from Franklin, but back then, we thought it was weird. There are no lines here though. There are only two options on the menu- the brisket sandwich and Bingo burger. The brisket sandwich is the best. You can get it sliced or chopped. The Bingo burger is a smoked beef patty. I thought it was okay. I feel like the items are overpriced and under portioned. I would probably have to eat 15 bucks worth of brisket sandwiches to be full.

Amber and I tried a lot of the places on the 2008 and 2013 list at the second annual Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. We missed out on the first one when the tickets sold out within a few hours. We went with our friends and ate so much barbecue. There were 20 BBQ joints there. We skipped a few of the Austin and Lockhart places that we have been to. We were trying to pace ourselves. We were getting stuffed with barbecue and booze. I might have been hallucinating at the end because I had so much protein in my system that I felt crazy. Some of the places at the end started to taste terrible. The last place we tried was Franklin. Even though we felt disgusting, his lean brisket was the best brisket at the festival. I am not even a fan of lean brisket which tells you a lot. Franklin's moist brisket is where it is at.
I want to address a new term. Hipster barbecue? I am not even sure what that means. There are a bunch of BBQ joints popping everywhere. I am pretty sure they are not just catering towards hipsters. Yeah if you wait in line at Franklin, you will see them. Hipsters have to eat right? Good food is good food regardless who you are. The regulars do not get waiting in line for BBQ. They do not like their favorite place packed. I guess the younger crowd has more time on their hand. The older bunch expects the "BBQ bubble" to burst. I am going to doubt this. Have they seen how many Tex-Mex restaurants Austin can support? Who are they kidding? Maybe the pitmaster are hipsters? Yeah I still do not get the term. Call me young then.
I am going to try to post an entry every week. I might need to start eating a lot of barbecue for material. My life sounds so hard.

Until next time, happy smoking...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fire up the pits

Barbecue - "a large animal (as a steer) roasted whole or split over an open fire or a fire in a pit"
Recently I started a running blog. I run all the time, but I really do not have a lot of material to post on there all the time. So I decided to start another blog on my third passion. I love eating and smoking barbecue. I have actually lost friends over it. I feel like everyone who has lived in Texas should get it, but sometimes they do not. What I am talking about is the difference between barbecuing and grilling out. People will post on Facebook that are hosting a BBQ. When you show up, they are grilling hotdogs and hamburgers. That is what I call grilling out. At that same moment, I also get disappointed. I was expecting brisket, sausage, or ribs.

The point of this blog is for me to review BBQ joints we visit, talk about my adventures in smoking meats, or anything related to barbecue. I was going to start this blog a long time ago. I have taken pictures every time I go to a barbecue restaurant. The only issue is I have forgotten what I was going to write about each place. I guess I will have to revisit them again. Darn...

When I was growing up, my family did not eat barbecue very often. If we did, it was mainly ribs. I grew up in Cleveland so that was a hotbed for BBQ. Not. We moved to Texas when I was 14, but I did not taste the holy meat known as brisket till I was in college at The University of Texas at Austin . I felt like I was sheltered from certain foods when I was growing up. I did not really eat Tex-Mex till college as well. The first time I ate brisket was at Rudy's. I remember getting the moist cut and thinking this was one of best meats I have ever eaten. Of course now, my opinion of Rudy's is completely different now. In college, I also loved PoK-e-Jo's (mainly because of the sides), Bongo's (now closed), and Green Mesquite. Yikes! What was I thinking back then?

When the wife was in law school in Lubbock, we did not eat a whole lot of barbecue there. We mainly ate a lot of Tex-Mex and chain restaurants. That also explains why I was almost 40 pounds heavier. There were about four BBQ places, and they were all forgettable. Tom and Bingo's became our favorite place, but we did not try them till after we left Lubbock. They made the Texas Monthly's Top 50 BBQ List back in 2008. Their brisket was very good, but the portion was small and not cheap.

In the summer of 2007, we moved back to Austin. We would often to go out to the Salt Lick with friends. I am a big fan of the place. I will write more about it more someday. Who does not like all you can eat barbecue and BYOB? Amber and I would eat at various BBQ places in and around the Austin area. We ended up building a house in Kyle in 2009. Kyle is about 15 minutes away from the barbecue capital of Texas, Lockhart. After visiting Lockhart multiple times at the different restaurants that it had to offer, my love for barbecue started to swell. I wanted to be able to smoke my own meat. I feel so wrong for writing the last two sentences.

For my 30th birthday, Amber got me an electric smoker. I did not want her to spend a whole lot of money on something I might not be committed to. I know an electric smoker is not the best way to go, but it is a lot easier to control the temperature. I just needed to make sure I have enough woods chips in there to create a thick smoke. I normally use oak or pecan wood. One of these days I will invest in a traditional smoker with room, but I am happy with what I have now. I have made brisket, ribs, chicken, turkey, and pulled pork. I am quite satisfied in what comes out of the smoker.

So this was a small start to my barbecue blog. I have a lot of posts lined up that I sort of feel overwhelmed. I hope you guys enjoy it.

Until next time, happy smoking...