photo credit: Nicolai McCrary
You’ve heard about Franklin Barbecue. Your neighbor has heard about Franklin Barbecue. Your aunt’s cousin’s best friend who lives in Wisconsin has heard about Franklin Barbecue. So if you’re here reading this, you’re probably here looking for the answer to one specific question—is this East Side barbecue joint worth the wait? The short answer is, yes. But it’s a yes with asterisks the size of boot spurs.
Aaron Franklin has built a name for himself by making the best brisket in Texas (and therefore, the world), but you might have to put in some time, sweat, and sleepless nights to get it.
You’ll hear people talk about “The Franklin Barbecue Experience,” which is really just a way to justify waiting in line for at least four hours to eat some barbecue. This “experience” might vary a bit from person to person, but generally involves some camp chairs, a cooler with beers, lots of coffee, and breakfast tacos to “tailgate” the line, which forms about four hours before Franklin opens at 11am (factor in a little less time for bad weather, or more on popular weekends). You’ll probably make friends with the people ahead of you in line— generally a mix of tourists, locals with their out-of-town guests, and college students who have way too much energy at 8am—while silently hoping they don’t manage to grab the last of the brisket.
Eventually you’ll make your way through the entrance, which feels like boarding a roller coaster after a few hours out in the Texas sun. It’s a full-on adrenaline rush, and it’ll take your eyes a few seconds to adjust to a relatively small, rustic dining room with concrete floors and worn-in wooden tables. The menu is about as classic as it gets—brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, turkey, and sausage. And while all of it’s excellent, not ordering the brisket is like waiting in line for a sneaker drop just to pick up a pair of Stan Smiths—you’ve completely missed the point. It’s rich and tender, with the intense flavor of post oak that penetrates even the deepest regions of every bite. The seasoning is minimal—just salt and pepper—allowing the meat to take the spotlight. This is the brisket that’s defined an entire genre.
If waiting in a four-hour line sounds like your own personal hell, we’ll let you in on a little secret. Get a few friends together and you can place an online order ahead of time and bypass the line entirely. You’ll need to plan a few weeks ahead and hit a pretty hefty minimum order, but think of all the things you can do with those extra hours you just saved.
You can get brisket that’s almost as good at a few other places in town—but nobody talks about their almost best friend or the almost best burger they ever ate. It’s also incredibly consistent—there’s never an off day or a bad piece. So is it worth the wait? It comes down to your tolerance for lines and your desire for genre-defining meat.
This is why you’re here. The seasoning is about as classic as it gets—just salt and pepper—which gives the meat a chance to shine. Expect a thick bark on the outside with some great bite, and perfectly tender brisket beneath. Ask for it moist if you want the ultimate experience. This is what’s made Franklin Barbecue the final boss that has yet to be defeated.
The ribs here start with a similarly minimal rub of salt and pepper, but finish on the smoker with a few spritzes of barbecue sauce that makes them just a little bit sticky and brings out some of those pork flavors a bit. The ribs here have just the right amount of chew but still pull from the bone easily. Just how we like them.
A couple links of sausage should definitely be a part of your order, even if just as a palate cleanser between bites of brisket. It’s made with a blend of beef and pork—at any other restaurant, this sausage would be the star of the show. We like the jalapeno cheddar, but the classic is always a solid bet.
There are no wild cards here—the sides are about what you’d expect at a classic Central Texas barbecue joint. The potato salad is mustardy, and the cole slaw is a refreshing complement to some rich, smoked meats. If you’re making a meal out of sides, you might be disappointed, but otherwise they do their job well.