The new champ

AUSTIN, Texas – Ranking barbecue joints feels an awful lot like ranking college football teams. Each ranking is purely subjective. Each ranking is based on potentially dubious criteria unique to the individual doing the ranking. Each ranking, in the grand scheme, is utterly meaningless. (Except in college football, where the convoluted system makes subjective, dubious rankings meaningful.) In the end, a few of you will read the rankings and click away smiling. Most of you will think I’m an idiot.

So it is with great trepidation that I make this announcement. We have a new barbecue national champion.Trust me, I understand the gravity of ranking Austin’s Franklin Barbecue ahead of previous national champs Sweatman’s (Holly Hill, S.C.) and Archibald’s (Northport, Ala.). I’ve abandoned the states of my birth and my mother’s birth and the sanctity of pork to embrace a bunch of Texas brisket-eaters. I realize that by doing this, some family members may no longer wish to speak to me. That’s OK. I’ve grown accustomed to being ostracized by my fellow Southerners. This same phenomenon takes place whenever I rank Boise State above an SEC power while doing my real job.

In my defense, all I can say is this: If you haven’t tasted Franklin’s brisket, you can’t possibly understand. There is a reason diners line up outside as many as two hours before Franklin opens at 11 a.m. There is a reason the place sometimes shuts down before the lunch hour ends at most companies, and it isn’t because Franklin serves honest-to-God brewed sweet tea in a region where sweet tea availability is hit-or-miss. The brisket is the reason.

Where it all began.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m way behind on Franklin. Foodies have worshipped the place since pitmaster Aaron Franklin started his business in a trailer in 2009. Last month, Georgian Andrew Knowlton also turned his back on his roots and named Franklin the nation’s best barbecue joint in Bon Appétit. In Knowlton’s story, Franklin admits that his initial effort at brisket was “awfully terrible.” He also claims to only use salt and pepper to spice the meat before it embarks on an 18-hour smoke at 250-270 degrees.

The wait outside Franklin feels like 18 hours. When I spent 80 minutes in line last week as the temperature climbed toward triple digits, the aroma wafting across the building nearly drove me insane. I envied the veterans who brought their folding chairs as much as Patrick Bateman envied subtle off-white business cards with watermarks. (Oh my God. He even has a Kindle.) But once I bit into that first piece of brisket, everything melted away.

If Franklin speaks the truth about the spices, then he’s a wizard on the same level as grass-munching, time-bending LSU football coach Les Miles. Whatever he uses produces a bark laden with spicy, sweet and savory notes. The nearly daylong cooking process allows almost every cubic millimeter of fat to render through the meat, basting it continuously until it oozes glory. Also, Franklin wisely counsels his employees to cut the brisket in thick slices. That preserves much of the moisture so many places simply waste when they slice too thin or – even worse – chop the meat.

If you’ve read the earlier posts here, you know how I feel about sauce. If Franklin offered nary a drop of sauce, it wouldn’t matter. The brisket comes so close to perfection that it requires no adornment. That doesn’t stop Franklin from trying to completely blow his customers’ minds. His signature espresso sauce adds even more complexity to the taste. While the concept may sound odd, consider an espresso rub on an aged steak. Espresso mingles with beef just as well as espresso mingles with the steamed milk in a soccer mom’s $5 drink.

At this point, the people from my side of the Mississippi have got to be howling. Brisket? Espresso sauce? Have I lost my mind?

To that, I pose my own questions. Would a lothario limit himself to only blondes? Why wouldn’t he also want to sample brunettes and redheads? Would a thrillseeker limit himself to jumping out of planes? Why wouldn’t he also want to climb mountains or swim with sharks?

Just because I was born a few miles from Williams-Brice Stadium doesn’t mean barbecue has to be a pulled pork sandwich drenched in mustard-based sauce. Regional barbecue pride/snobbery has its place, just as regional football pride/snobbery has its place. But if we don’t expand our horizons, we might miss something magical.

Had I never watched Boise State play football, I never would have seen the American Dream wrapped up in one down from scrimmage. Had I limited myself to the barbecue of my forefathers, I never would have tasted dry rub ribs in Memphis, ribs in a gas station in Kansas City, a fried-biscuit side in Indiana, the Badwich in Tulsa or the brisket at Franklin, which was worth every second of the wait.

Pre-meal workout: Six-mile run in Austin’s Town Lake Park (One of the best jogs in America.)

Featured workout tune: Dreams by Van Hagar

"I don't want to wait in vain for your brisket."



About Andy Staples

Eating anything that doesn't eat me first.
This entry was posted in BBQ, Sweet Tea and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to The new champ

  1. Kyle Rohde says:

    It sounds awesome – will have to try and get there when I go to Austin next year for the Grand Prix. However, declaring the world’s best BBQ without any mention of any Kansas City joints is sacrilege – let’s hear your KC opinions, Andy.

    • Andy Staples says:

      Terrible oversight by me. Fixed with Oklahoma Joe’s reference. (I’ve also had Gates and AB, but haven’t had Jack Stack yet.)

      • Kyle Rohde says:

        You’ve had my two faves then (OKJ and AB). Not-so-well-known but excellent – the Woodyard. They sold a variety of smoking woods to other BBQ joints for decades and opened their own spot up later. Good stuff.

      • Sam Jones says:

        Enjoyed the post. As a Kansas Citian for my first 36 years and an Austinite for only the last 11, I was skeptical of all the ravings about Franklin’s. I have tried many of the famous Texas BBQ joints since moving here in 2000 and had yet to find one that I thought was as good as or better than some of the great places in KC mentioned above. I had not yet tried Franklins. A friend from work finally brought me a briskett sandwich back from there last week. I am a total convert. I completely agree with your assessment – brisket is awesome all by itself, but the espresso sauce is killer too. That sauce would be great on some Arthur Bryant’s fries.

  2. DannyAdelante says:

    This time last year I was in Austin with my brother and did not know about Franklin’s. Now I’ve moved from Texas and amd in NYC. My mouth is literally watering while reading this. So frustrating!

  3. Common mistake thinking Franklin’s is the best in Texas (ie the world), Andy. But if you’re still in the Lone Star State, you need to get to Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, the true king. Only open Saturday mornings, they serve til the run out. Puts most anything else to shame, and edges out Franklin’s by a hair.

  4. College Station’s closer to Lexington than Austin! Hopefully my Ags will give you a reason to try the brisket this year

  5. I can’t really hate on you for your opinion here after reading a similar sentiment in the WaPo Smoke Signals column, but I’ve got to say if it beats Ok. Joe’s then it’s got to be damn good. Right now that’s my current #1 (as a Bama fan, I’ve been through Dreamland & Archibald’s multiple times), better even than Jack Stack (too fancy) and Gates. We nearly went to Woodyard on my last trip to KC, but word is they’re very much hit or miss these days and we didn’t want to risk it (Are you really going to hold hitting up both Ok Joe’s locations con consecutive days against us? Anyway, I needed some peach wood for my carry on luggage from the KC BBQ store.).

    I’m still awaiting a good bone here around DC. Until then I’ll just stick to my weber bullet.

  6. MichaelSmartPR says:

    Hi Andy, I’m a BYU fan going to Austin for the game. Is Salt Lick worth the drive out to Driftwood? (Obviously, after sampling Franklin’s). Thanks for the timely post and the new blog in general!

    • Andy Staples says:

      It’s not a bad drive — maybe 30 minutes. The lines will probably be atrocious at Franklin, so a trip to Driftwood might do the trick. Also consider County Line (order extra bread). I would tell you that Salt Lick is BYOB, but you’re coming for the BYU game, so I’m guessing that doesn’t matter.

      • bobestes says:

        Salt lick is “worth it” solely for the fact that it just feeeeeels like Texas. Hard to describe, but it’s the total package, total experience.

    • Alex Jaremko says:

      I would forgo Salt Lick and drive to Lockheart. The drive is comparable, and the ‘q at Smitty’s or Kreuz is far, far better than Salt Lick.

    • texas expat says:

      I’d skip Salt Lick for sure. County Line is better than Salt Lick, and County Line isn’t even exceptional.

  7. Nathan Wu says:

    I’ve had both Snow’s and Franklin’s, and am pretty sure I like the brisket at Franklin’s better. Ribs too. Snow’s probably has better pork loin, but that’s only because I don’t think Franklin’s has pork loin.

  8. Zenraider says:

    Welcome to the mountaintop.

  9. Chris P. says:

    I realize peole tend to gravitate to Texas, Kansas City, Memphis and The Carolinas, but living here in central Virginia we’ve seen an outburst of BBQ places and one of the best is the BBQ Exchange, north of Charlottesville. Two words Hog Wingz, be sure to check it out if you make your way to ACC country ( they also have BBQ pork belly, it’s like a pork Twix).

  10. Atomic_Tom says:

    Austinite here, just throwing it out there. It’s “Franklin Barbeque”.

    I’m a fat BBQ loving Texan and I can 100% attest that the BBQ at Franklin is the best that has ever crossed the threshold and entered my temple of a body. Regarding other places in the area: don’t do Salt Lick or the County Line, both mediocre at best. Lockheart, TX (the BBQ capitol of TX) is a short 25 minute drive south and east of Austin. There you will find Smitty’s and Kreuz Market. Or go to Louis Mueller’s BBQ in Taylor. These 3 places are central TX legends, stylistically what Franklin is going for.

  11. Richie says:

    Just so you can speak the lingo, using only salt and pepper on bbq is also known as using a dalmatian rub.

  12. Jason says:

    Andy, no mention to the BBQ state? Where is the love for the NC BBQ, not the crap in western NC either, the Eastern NC BBQ is where heaven begins and ends.

  13. Walter Mcspadden says:

    Sorry, Mr. Staples. But beef? Really? It may be good. It may even be delicious. But it’s not barbeque. Samuel Johnson’s 1756 dictionary gave the following definitions:

    “To Barbecue – a term for dressing a whole hog” (attestation to Pope)

    “Barbecue – a hog dressed whole”

  14. BigAl says:

    drive 10 miles east to Donn’s BBQ, but it isn’t trendy ’cause its not in a trailer.

  15. Sara Kim says:

    And when in East Texas, only Stanley’s will do. Brisket, ribs, smoked turkey, it is all out of this world. So good you’ve got to hose off afterwards. Simply can’t let Stanley’s go unmentioned.

  16. Xtoval says:

    I’ve lived in Austin for years and agree with your assessment. Franklin’s brisket is the best I have ever tasted. The joints in Lockhart are also great and the Salt Lick is always a fun experience.

    But on the subject of barbeque in out of the way places, there is a great place in Winnipeg, Canada called Lovey’s. The genius behind is a local who traveled extensively throughout the South and created a shrine to what he most loved. Winnipeg already had a bit of a ribs tradition (White House, Silver Heights, Rae & Jerry’s) but Lovey makes the best, better in fact than any I have had in Texas. Granted, I haven’t tasted those of Memphis, etc. but it is not impossible that gifted individuals can produce memorable Q, even in the Canadian prairies.

  17. Glenn says:

    Man it kills me that Barbeque Pitmasters isn’t going to be on this year . Just used to love that show . Yes Myron Mixon can be infuriating . Really loved Warren Sapp on that show . Anyhow if your loving the beef brisket and find your way in Atlanta Fox Bros bbq really has great beef brisket .
    Nice to hear the champ doesn’t use an injector . 18 hours is one long smoke . The longest I have smoked a brisket was 12 hours on my Weber Performer . I prefer smoking on that more than on a WSM . I have cut in place fire bricks on one side with the meat on the other . That way you can char the bark a little . Works on any Weber kettle . Go Dawgs !!

  18. Two of my most passionate and territorial sports…college football and BBQ. The debate on these two pastimes will live on forever.

  19. Ed says:

    The BBQ is in Martinsville, VA at Pigs-R-Us; 2nd Pick-N-Pig in Carthage,NC…just my opinion!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Having moved from West Texas (always lived in Texas) to Austin and UT in 1963, we love BBQ. The Salt Lick and County Line on the Lake (the atmosphere is great at both) are two of the most popular BBQ places in Austin and Texas.

    Cooper’s in Llano is one of the best BBQ places in Texas. People drive for hundreds of miles to eat BBQ at Coopers. We have people who come from New York and Hawaii for the beef ribs at The County Line. In Texas, real BBQ is Beef!!!!

    Everyone has their favorites, and all of these have a little different flavor. We enjoy eating at all three. We don’t drive to Taylor, Lockhart, or Lexington for BBQ with such great places in Austin . And we don’t wait in line for 80 minutes to eat at Franklins!, but we when traveling, we always stop at Cooper’s in Llano!!

    • George says:

      Yeah, I was lucky enough to walk into Cooper’s randomly when moving from San Diego to Miami — I knew nothing about the place, just that I wanted Texas BBQ for lunch. And oh my lord, it was easily some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had — certainly the best brisket. BTW, do they have more than one location? B/c I remember the one I went to being in Junction (right off the highway) rather than Llano. Either way, it was AMAZING!

      As for my favorite BBQ elsewhere: for pork, no one has ever beat Wall’s in Savannah, regardless of sauce type (they use mustard). And for ribs, that’s tough, but I might have to side with Eli’s, which is located right here in [blasphemy alert] Miami (Liberty City, to be exact)! I wasn’t tempted to put even a drop of sauce on those bad boys, they were too good without it. Eli’s is located right next to a church, so I think maybe God does something to the ribs before they come out of the smoker, wow! Best peach cobbler I ever had too:-)

  21. As a fellow southerner, I also harbor an appreciation for Texas barbecue. There’s room for all types, as long as it’s good. Though I find ranking is a bit limiting and arbitrary, prefer to think in “tiers” by region/style. Haven’t had a ton of bbq in Texas, but both Railhead & Angelo’s in Ft Worth are outstanding.

  22. Billy says:

    I like Cozy Corner in Memphis best, but Franklin’s is very good too. I’m a port man myself and that will always hurt Texas BBQ in my personal rankings.

    • Andy Staples says:

      We need to talk. Are the Cornish hens at Cozy Corner as good as they look on TV? Been to Rendezvous and Corky’s — and non-BBQ, The Arcade — but I haven’t been to Interstate or Cozy Corner yet. Next time.

      • Return_of_Ra says:

        How can you miss interstate ? Its in the airport . & The original is not far away from that. Man, You guys have inspired me to to crank up the grill and the smoker …. btw its 5:30 am.LOL

      • Billy says:

        The Cornish Hen’s are very good and unique, but I have a hard time passing the ribs. If you want to impress a local get a baloney sandwich. I travel to Memphis a lot and this is best BBQin city. I usually eat here twice a trip!

  23. jesse says:

    City Market in Luling is also among the best of the best…

  24. friendlyphil says:

    I’ve been disappointed every time I have eaten barbeque outside of Memphis

  25. George says:

    We can’t leave Georgia out — specifically, Wall’s in Savannah. The pulled pork is the best I’ve ever had (they use mustard sauce, and wow is it good!). And for anyone visiting South Florida, you have to try Eli’s in the Liberty City section of Miami (only in the daytime, though:-). Some of the best ribs I’ve ever had — I need to ask the owners where they’re originally from next time I go, b/c there’s no way Miami folks know how to make ribs that good on their own:-).

  26. Dan Norton says:

    Rudy’s just outside San Antonio is hard to beat.

  27. Chuck says:

    There is a BBQ spot in DeVall’s Bluff, Arkansas called Craig’s. Hole-in-the-wall joint, but has – by far – the best pork BBQ sandwich ever. Layers of sliced pork, unique sauce, and topped with a special cole slaw that has apples in it. If you ever ate one, a BBQ sandwich from anyplace else would be a disappointment. I live in Texas, and eat lots of beef BBQ, but it can’t hold a candle to that that litte piece of heaven in east Arkansas.

    • rene ochoa says:

      I made a Memphis BBQ trip from Dallas a couple of years ago and found my way to Craig’s. What a revelation! Despite my love for Interstate and Rendevous, I was really blown away by the quality of the pork at Craig’s. Saying the place is a “hole in the wall” is actually an overstatement. It’s not for those who insist on a clean dining area or top-notch scores from the health department. If you can forgive the atmosphere, the pork sandwich and rib sandwich are pure heaven. I am originally from San Antonio and had family living near Lockhart when I was a kid. Saturday stops at Kreuz (when they were at the current Smitty’s site) for a ring of sausage and a slice of brisket or shoulder clod was a weekly ritual. Love that Central Texas ‘cue!

      • Andy Staples says:

        My friend George sent me a bottle of Craig’s sauce. It’s awesome – like a bottle of tomato-based sauce had an affair with a bottle of Pickapeppa. I need to get out there.

  28. Austin man says:

    Austinite here. I waited in line 45 minutes for Franklin BBQ because I heard it was good. I have never waited in line that long for BBQ in Texas ever. You know what? I would do it again! It is freaking Awesome!! This blog is spot on.

  29. Are you serious, Andy? Texas brisket is not barbecue. You are right to expect to be shunned by fellow Sandlappers. Also, Sweatmann’s is good but the best barbecue sold in the state is in Manning at McCabes. Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion, and I will respect yours, but I maintain hope that you will eventually return to your senses and return the National Championship to its rightful home, South Carolina.

  30. Growing up in the south, I used to be a Sweatman’s guy myself. That all changed when work sent me to Austin and my client there pointed me to a trailer off I-35 called Franklin’s BBQ. If I had to pick a last meal, Franklin’s brisket would be the main course.

  31. RG says:

    As a Kansas City boy, I’ve learned never to argue the merits of one BBQ joint vs. another. At this stage of my life, any BBQ is good BBQ, washed down with a cold Bud Long Neck.

  32. daniel says:

    As an Austinite, I prefer Johnny T’s BBQ (in Round Rock) brisket over Franklin’s. (Only by the margain of a hair)..
    Try the pulled pork! Amazing!

  33. Franklin’s is great. I also like the porkchop at Cooper’s in Llano (or New Braunfels). It’s worth a drive.

  34. Pingback: ‘Quite Lovely’ | Heaven Is A Buffet

  35. tom burke says:

    Hey folks — all these Southern places are undoubtedly great.

    But you don’t always have to drive ten hours south of Robert E. Lee’s stomping grounds to find good ‘Q. One place I have in particular enjoyed is Jimmy’s BBQ located in Malvern, PA — — suburban Philadelphia.

    Authentic, and Jimmy is there every day, making sure its great every day. Check it out.

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