It is 10:30 in the morning and something strange is happening on East 11th Street in Austin, Texas. Outside Franklin Barbecue, roughly 100 people are already in line, eagerly awaiting the lunch service.
In 2009, family-run Franklin Barbecue began in a trailer in an Austin parking lot. Shortly thereafter, the foodie press noticed, with Bon Appetit magazine declaring Franklin as America’s best barbecue in 2010. The brisket, in particular, has received rave reviews from the media.
Living in Houston, I had to see if the hype surrounding Franklin Barbecue was justified. Texans are particular about their barbecue (criticizing someone’s barbecue could be considered “fightin’ words”!) and Houston has several good barbecue restaurants. I decided, however, to drive the 150 miles to Austin to try Franklin’s brisket.
I arrived about thirty minutes before the 11:00 lunch and was stunned by the size of the crowd. Everyone from University of Texas’ students to Austin locals to tourists to groups celebrating special occasions was waiting in line.
While parking in the area is a nightmare, once I made it into the line, Franklin’s friendly staff kept everything organized with military precision. Visitors are quickly approached by a staff-member with a clipboard, and our group was informed that the wait would be two hours (!). Visitors will be asked in line what type of barbecue they want with choices of brisket, sausage, pulled pork, ribs or turkey. As two hours is a very long time to wait, staff will come through the crowd with Texas beers (including some local craft beers), along with Big Red soda and Coca-Cola (both sodas made with real sugar) for sale. Some of the line brought their own lawn chairs and beer, as they knew the wait would be long.
After two hours, I finally made it into the restaurant. Prices for the meats will run between $8 to $16, and sides of potato salad, coleslaw, or beans are extra. Portion sizes are large. For very hungry visitors, choices of pecan, bourbon banana, key lime or lemon chess pie are on hand for dessert. Souvenir t-shirts are also available for sale.
I chose the brisket, sausage, beans and coleslaw. Three types of barbecue sauce are on each table, including both vinegar-based and sweet sauces. The brisket I ordered was fresh and extremely tender, practically falling off the fork. It’s the best brisket I’ve eaten. The beef was moist and perfectly seasoned, matching its reputation, as Franklin has sold out of brisket every day since they have been opened. The sausage and the sides were equally good.
Inside the restaurant is small with mainly shared tables seating no more than thirty. A few picnic tables can be found outside.
Franklin Barbecue is only open daily at lunch (except Mondays) and only stays open until the food is gone. Be aware that while every day is busy, Fridays and Saturdays are the most crowded. For tourists visiting Austin who love barbecue, while the wait is a hassle, Franklin Barbecue is a special experience.
I wondered if it would be worth it to drive 150 miles and wait two hours just to eat barbecue. The answer is yes.
900 E. 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78702