Brisket, doing its thing in the cooker for 16 hours.
The first time Aaron Franklin wanted to cook brisket, he launched his dial-up Internet service, went to the AskJeeves home page (now just Ask.com), and typed “how to cook brisket” in the search field. Zero results. So he called his father, then owner of Ben’s Bar-B-Que in Bryan, Texas, who answered, “I don’t know, just cook it ‘til it’s done. Build a fire. Cook it ‘til it looks right.”
So that’s what he did. “Even though the food sucked, I still really had a blast with it,” he says. Then came trips to barbecue meccas such as Lockhart and Taylor, Texas. Then came some ambitious backyard barbecues. And finally, he and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Stacy opened Franklin BBQ—a trailer in an Austin parking lot—in 2009. “I sent an email out to 20 friends and that was it,” he says. “Every one of them showed up, even though it was cold and rainy.”
He’s sold out of brisket every day since then.
"The intention was for this to be a lazy little spot; maybe two or three people could run it. I visualized playing Dominos and drinking beer at night, watching the fire… It was a super modest idea.”
They moved from the trailer to a brick-and-mortar location in 2011. Bon Appétit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton named Franklin the best barbecue spot in the country that same year. Construction on an addition with a take-out window starts April 1. So much for those modest dreams.
Part of the lure is what Aaron calls his “fairy hands. No one really has the same touch or the same finesse.” He doesn’t know how to describe what that special factor is, exactly, but “I can tell the difference between something that I would cook and plate and anyone else’s.” He stays on top of quality control by keeping a “really tight, small group” of people working for him, including his manager Benji Jacob, a friend from high school.
A sampling of the goods at Franklin BBQ: ribs, brisket, turkey, pulled pork, pickles, onions, and Mrs. Baird’s bread
So here’s what it takes to run the best barbecue joint in the country:
Time Aaron gets to work when he’s cutting brisket: 6:00 a.m.
Time Aaron gets to work when he’s cooking: 1:00 a.m.
Hours a day Aaron’s on the job: 14. “That doesn’t count the welding of cookers and other stuff. I’m physically here 14 hours a day, but once I leave here I’m still working. It never stops!”
Hours a day the cookers are fired up: 24
Cords of post oak wood Franklin goes through a week: 4.86
Pounds of meat Franklin goes through a week: 7,637, based on our calculations Saturday (proof above)
Hours it takes to cook brisket: 15
Time the line starts: 6 a.m. on Saturdays. “It’s too early! I tell people to go sleep in their cars and I’ll come knock on the door when we’re ready, but they want to be first. It’s like everyone is trying to one-up each other!” 8:00 a.m. on weekdays, “which is still absurd. I mean, come on, it’s not cronuts over here…”
Average wait, in hours: 3 (4-5 on Saturdays)
Most amount of people in line at the time of opening: 400
People who get to skip the line: 0
Hours Anthony Bourdain waited in line: 2.5
Time the door opens: 10:59 a.m.
Time the first order is in: 11:00 a.m.
Time the brisket sells out: 2:30 p.m.
Number of briskets Aaron cooked before he opened: 20
Racks of ribs Aaron cooked before he opened: 1
Number of times Aaron says “flippin’ awesome” in a two-hour interview: 5
Aaron Franklin standing proud with one of the six cookers he built. All photos: Julia Bainbridge
by Aaron Franklin
14 oz. ketchup
5 oz. water
2.5 oz. apple cider vinegar
2.5 oz. white vinegar
4.5 Tbsp. brown sugar
2.5 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. chili powder
.5 Tbsp. Kosher salt
.5 Tbsp coarse-ground black pepper
1 tsp. cumin
Mix all ingredients in a pot and simmer until the flavors are well combined, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Once cool, store in an air-tight jar or bottle in the refrigerator. “It should stay good for months!” says Aaron.
Franklin Barbecue, 900 E 11th St, Austin, TX 78702, (512) 653-1187