If there’s one thing I learned while in Austin, it’s that Texans have an unusually high tolerance for lines. Especially when it comes to food.
Lines for tacos. Lines for donuts. Lines for BBQ.
And when it comes to that last item, you will undoubtedly find a line of hungry patrons standing outside any “top Austin eatery” that specializes in smoked meats.
The worst of these (and by worst, I mean the best) is the infamous Franklin BBQ.
Aaron Franklin started out in a wee trailer, shelling out beef brisket to a quickly growing, cult-like following, and eventually moving into a brick-and-mortar location. The restaurant has won just about every award out there, including Texas Monthly’s Best Barbecue Joint in Texas award and Bon Appétit’s Best Barbecue Joint in America. Obama even visited at one point.
Franklin’s raison d’être is its famous beef brisket. The meat is thrown into a smoker for 15 hours (you could fly from SF to Beijing and still be waiting for it to cook) and quite literally falls apart upon tasting.
“The finest brisket I’ve ever had”.– Anthony Bourdain
If you’ve ever had good sushi (and I mean good sushi), you’ll understand what I mean when I say that a slice of their fatty brisket actually melts in your mouth (à la fatty o-toro style).
But my favorite? The ribs. Oh god, the ribs. They’re smokey and meaty and soft and everything that good meat should be.
Then there’s the sausage, which is really just, well, a sausage, and the turkey. The waitress taking our orders outside hyped this one up, calling it her favorite of all of Franklin’s options, but I was a little disappointed. I think the miscommunication comes from the fact that most people only have horrible, terrible experiences with turkey (slices of cardboard smothered in cranberry and gravy to transform it into something slightly edible), but I have not. I’ve had the kind of turkey that one actually looks forward to eating, and thus, I was not impressed.
I didn’t order the pulled pork and regretted this immediately upon tasting a portion from the tray of my line companion, Gilbert.
There’s a diverse selection of local and non-local beers to choose from, classic BBQ sides like coleslaw, baked beans, and potato salad (all things I am decidedly not a fan of), and a jar of pickled jalapeños at $0.50 a pop. Pies, too. Pickles and onions come free, as do the basic slices of white Wonder Bread (a mystery I still haven’t quite figured out).
There are 3 BBQ sauces as well: original, spicy, and sweet.
So how does one get into the all-exclusive Franklin BBQ?
Here’s a timely recap of my experience:
6:30 am: Wake up, get ready, mistakenly assume, in my half-sleep, that snacking on a slice of toast and jam is a wise choice before the BBQ feast of a lifetime
7:30 am: Finish getting ready, get some work done
8:30 am: Start walking east-ward from downtown
8:39 am: Stroll under an underpass and wonder if I’m going in the right direction
8:43 am: Am almost completely convinced that I’ve wandered into a seedy Austin neighborhood and check Google Maps to verify that I’m still on course
8:51 am: Arrive at what appears to be Franklin BBQ
8:55 am: Sit down, make friendly small talk with my line neighbors, size up the competition—25 people in line ahead of me so far
9:30 am: Assess the line a second time: 40 people total
10:30 am: Thirty minutes until opening and about 80 people are in line
11:00 am: OPENING TIME BABY
11:15 am: The moment you’ve all been waiting for: I order food
11:30 am: Sit down and eat, angels sing sweetly in the background
12:00 pm: Walk back to my hostel
So there you have it, a typical Tuesday morning’s Franklin BBQ saga.
Your Franklin BBQ starter pack should include:
- A lawn chair (or sit on the floor like a peasant as I did)
- Water (obvious reasons)
- Hat (sun protection if you don’t make it under the awning)
- Sunscreen (see #3)
- Beer cooler (it will be hot)
- Beers for filing said cooler (obvious reasons)
- Coffee (there’s a coffee trailer in the back, but if they’re closed, there’s also a café down the street with $2.75 cold brew)
- Phone battery pack (if you have an iPhone 6s that dies after like, 6 minutes of YouTube videos)
- Voracious appetite (obvious reasons)
Get there early
The first reason is that Franklin has sold out every single day since they opened a decade ago, usually around 2 pm. You can risk coming at the tail end of things (when I left at 12 pm, there was only a small line outside) to pick on scraps, but if you’re gunning for the real experience (I mean, who travels all the way to Austin just for a tiny pulled pork sandwich), you need to be there long before it opens.
The second reason is that there’s only a small part of the line that will get shade for the day. After the first 50 people or so, you’ll be baking in the sun until it’s time to eat.
On weekdays, 9-10 am should be fine. On weekends, aim for 7-8 am, or even earlier if it’s a Saturday. I promise the wait isn’t all that unpleasant—everyone is friendly and in the same exact predicament as you, and you won’t get any strange looks for sipping on a beer at 8 in the morning, so it’s really not all that bad.
When are they open? 11 am until sell out, Tuesday-Sunday
How long is the wait? 2-3 hours on a weekday, 4-6 on a weekend
How do you order? Approach the counter, ask for the meats you want (type of meat and the weight), order your sides, ask for a drink, and pay
What is the minimum order? 1/4 lb
What do the meats look like by weight? 1/4 lb brisket = 2-3 slices, 1/4 lb turkey = 4-6 slices, 1/4 sausage = 1 sausage, 1/4 rib = 1 rib bone, 1/4 pulled pork = palm-sized serving
What do I order? EVERYTHING. Really. If you’re a single, small female like myself, I suggest 1/4 lb of each cut.
Can I take my order to go? Yes. They have butcher paper to wrap up your meats
How much does it cost? My order (1/4 lb each of 4
Is it worth it? Yes!
What are my alternatives if I don’t want to wait so long for BBQ while in Austin BBQ? La Barbeque or Black’s for next-best with under an hour wait, or Cooper’s for no wait. Yelp is your friend.
Check out this video on the whole experience!
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