Aaron Franklin’s parents owned a barbecue stand in his native Bryan, Texas, so it could be said that making good brisket is in his blood. But barbecue runs thick in the veins of every Texan, and when Franklin began experimenting with brisket and a backyard smoker a decade ago, it just so happened that with him it ran thicker than most.
With the encouragement of friends, Franklin and his wife Stacy debuted Franklin Barbecue in late 2009 on an East Austin parking lot. From the walk-up window of a travel trailer-turned brisket stand, patrons quickly recognized the undeniable, finger-licking quality of the barbecue: the Franklins were selling the best there was. By spring, the line of admirers snaked around the block, and the press followed.
In less than two years, Franklin Barbecue garnered a sizeable amount of published praise. The Washington Post, Texas Monthly, and Cooking Channel were among a growing chorus hailing Franklin among America’s BBQ elite. Indeed Franklin’s was even mentioned in the breath as Smitty’s, Kreuz’s, and other stalwart temples to the holy craft of smoked meat that line the Central Texas brisket belt. The jewel in Franklin’s brisket crown? In the summer of 2010, Bon Appetit hailed Franklin Barbecue as the best in America.
With this much success, the Franklins quickly outgrew their trailer, which is now parked behind their brick and mortar restaurant (located a few blocks south of the original location). Despite the new digs and every reasonable effort to increase production, Franklin Barbecue’s line is as long as ever, and the restaurant has sold out of brisket every day of its existence.
Interview with Rising Star Chef Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue - Austin, TX
Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Aaron Franklin: We like barbecue. We’re passionate about barbecue. It’s not cooking on a line. Not cheffery. It has its own idiosyncrasies, and the payoff is greater.
CH: How so?
AF: It takes 18 to 20 hours to cook one piece of meat. If any one thing goes wrong, it’s ruined. When it goes right, the reward is greater.
CH: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
AF: Don’t go to culinary school. Get a job and learn it on your own. I think anyone who has any interest in kitchens should find a job and see if you like it before spending a whole lot of money on culinary school. Plus, you’ll make the same amount of money when you get out as people who didn’t go to school.
CH: What goes into adding something to your menu?
AF: You can’t really deviate from basic cuts. You can do beef ribs and baby back ribs. But you have low temperatures and long cooking times. It’s pretty limiting; you can’t get creative with different cuts of meat.
CH: Where does creativity come into barbecue?
AF: It’s not creativity. It’s more of a craft—like brewing beer or roasting coffee. It takes a trained eye and a skilled person. You’re not just throwing a log on the fire. How long will it burn? It’s the weather, fluctuating meat supply, and always knowing what do to. There’s always something that goes wrong and something that needs to be done. There’s also fluid dynamics and how smoke works. It can get kind of nerdy.
CH: What’s the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
AF: Consistency. Constantly getting all-natural product and making sure every day tastes the same. When it rains, when it’s hot, things taste differently. We cook outdoors. Everything constantly changes.
CH: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
AF: The 30-hour work days—not going home for three days because I couldn’t leave work.
CH: What’s your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
AF: The fact that everyday people wait for three hours for food, and they’re still excited to get it. People aren’t cranky; they’re still excited to eat. It’s pretty darn gratifying.
CH: What does success mean for you?
AF: That [my wife and I are] happy. Our little baby is the barbecue place. The fact that it’s doing well and hasn’t killed us yet is pretty cool.
CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
AF: Having better food and a little bit more of it. A little smoother operation.