Franklin Barbecue: Speeding to Land the Last Rib in Austin

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A rental car stopped suddenly at the corner of 2nd & Congress. My father was behind the wheel, my brother in the passenger seat, and they both seemed hellbent on reaching Franklin Barbecue before they ran out of the day’s allotment of smoked meat. My dad started by driving the wrong way down one-way 6th Street and nearly sideswiped a car after exiting I-35, just to get to an abandoned lot. Aaron Franklin and wife Stacy started selling barbecue from a trailer on the lot in December 2009, but relocated to East 11th Street just 38 days prior to our arrival. After updating our BBQ intel and recalibrating our GPS, we reached the restaurant unscathed and in time to buy the very last rib.

The airy barbecue parlor was plenty inviting, with concrete flooring, a pastel green and Coca-Cola red color scheme. The decor may have been retro chic, but the music was pure old school, with piped-in classics from Porter Wagoner (“The Cold Hard Facts of Life”), Waylon Jennings and Conway Twitty, among other country crooners.

Barbecue Austin
When they launched the trailer, the Franklins initially used a smoker from Aaron’s former boss John Mueller, scion of Taylor barbecue legend Louie Mueller. Now, behind the restaurant, beyond cacti and a chain-link fence, they keep two box smokers, which produce 600 pounds of meat per day, and with a new shipping container, which will soon host a hand-built brick oven, they’ll be able to increase production to 1000. Soon enough, they may house a biergarten near the smokers too. That would clearly be a great summer addition.

The Franklins were friendly and hospitable during our visit, and even delivered our food, but since we were the last customers of the day, they left. Some other employees remained, including pitman John Avila, who previously worked for Melissa Brinkmann at Cake & Spoon before switching to “flesh and fire.” He said they go through 33 briskets, two cases of sausage, 18 racks of ribs, two turkey breasts, four pork butts and that’s it, they’re closed for the day.

Brisket Austin
Order from an overhead menu at the counter. Franklin sells barbecue by the pound, plate or sandwich. We requested healthy servings of brisket ($15/lb), pork ribs ($13/lb) and sausage ($10/lb), though we were also tempted by pulled pork.

Brisket Austin
The Franklins and their pit crew are purists, treating hormone-free beef brisket with nothing but Kosher salt and cracked black pepper before cooking it for 18 hours, with only three hours unattended. Avila or Franklin show up daily at 3 a.m. to tend the brisket. Avila said that once the exterior reaches the consistency of “sarsaparilla, caramelized bark,” they’re about 15 minutes from done. Stacy Franklin stopped by our table and painfully pointed out that we just missed the fatty cuts, which she said are even better. Probably so, but we still enjoyed slices with thin pink smoke rings, smoky, melt-in-your-mouth fat trim and texture, which wasn’t dry, and chipped at the lightest touch.

Barbecue Austin
Nearby Texas Sausage Company makes the sausages, which are made from beef and pork, with good snap, and while the texture wasn’t especially coarse, they were still quite juicy.

Barbecue Austin
The day’s last remaining pork ribs were another highlight, with a well-seasoned, caramelized bark.

Barbecue Sauces Austin
Franklin’s three sauces are apparently made twice weekly by a pastry chef, including a rich and slightly bitter espresso sauce, a tangy vinegar based sauce for pork, and a sweeter sauce for beef and sausage.

Potato Salad Austin
They only have three sides – potato salad, cole slaw and beans – which are available as a single or by the pint or quart. We ordered a pint of the potato salad ($4.50), which was fine, but not very dynamic, even when factoring in mustard, mayo, pickle, salt and pepper. Some more acidity may have helped it pop more. My favorite style of potato salad, which also feeds into the region’s history, is a vinegar based German potato salad, available nearby at restaurants like The Salt Lick BBQ.

Cole Slaw Austin
We also bought a pint of cole slaw ($4.50), which fared better, featuring crunchy purple cabbage, light mayo and a tangy two-step of sour cream and lemon juice.

Cake & Spoon furnishes the pies, including bourbon banana pudding, lemon buttermilk and Texas pecan, none of which remained by the time we ordered. Brinkmann and her pastries are also at Austin’s Saturday farmers market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Barbecue Austin
“Sorry Sold Out” is a sign that the Franklins regularly tape to the front door. With in-town barbecue this good, it isn’t going to last. We were just glad to slide in under the wire.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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