On a grey October morning, I trotted frantically around the corner onto Juniper Street, cheeks puffed and eyes narrowed with determination. I carried a cumbersome lawn chair under one arm, a breakfast taco in one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other. Having already failed once to get barbecue from Franklin’s, I had fretted over logistics long into the previous night.
Franklin’s succulent barbecue is as fabled as its long line. It opens at 11 am, and remains open until they sell out, which they always do. Before my boyfriend and I moved to Austin, we had tried to visit Franklin’s during a short trip around New Year’s. We had arrived only 45 minutes or so before it opened, laughably naïve in retrospect.
After waiting about half an hour, a Franklin’s employee told us to go seek our meaty fortunes elsewhere. They had crunched the numbers, and knew they were on track to sell out of barbecue well before they got to us. So instead we went to La Barbecue, a nearby food truck parked next to a smoker. It also had a long line, but featured a cooler with free beer and two old men playing the banjo next to a fire.
It was well worth the effort, and we returned to our rented room with barky brisket and spicy sausage. We had other tourist activities on our itinerary that day, but after our expansive barbecue repast we found lolling in greasy stupors irresistible. After an hour or so of drooling in silence, Max wondered aloud, “Do we have gout?” It seemed possible.
9 months and one 1,500-mile move later, my parents had driven all the way from Maryland to see me in my new digs. I hadn’t yet attempted Franklin’s, even though it sits on the corner of a street I drive past nearly every day, in walking distance from Max’s house. With my parents in Austin for the first time, the planets had aligned. Now it was an occasion, a good enough excuse for devoting 3 hours to a single meal at the hallowed barbecue mecca. I volunteered to withstand the line on my own.
To my relief, upon my arrival the line hadn’t yet extended too far into the parking lot. Not yet. Franklin’s wouldn’t open for another 90 minutes. It was about 12:40 when I got to the long-awaited counter. I had been rehearsing in my head what I was going to order since I had caught sight of the menu posted on the wall, reciting my barbecue rosary under my breath. Do not fuck this up, Molly! You have ONE CHANCE to accurately tell the man behind the counter which meats you want! Our Lady of Barbecue, be with me now and in the hour of my potato salad.
When I got inside the actual restaurant, at any given moment at least one person was taking a picture of their food. The guy in line behind me boasted about the number of people who had ‘liked’ his Facebook status update about waiting in the Franklin’s line. Besides BBQ-stained t-shirts and long, savory naps, Franklin’s also inspires a huge amount of online foodie braggadocio.
@meatboy @beefbutts @brisketbitch @FranklinBbq brisket 4 life! this how we do it in ATX! #fuckyeahmeatstains #meatcoma
…And so on.
And then, there he was. Aaron Franklin, founder, meat smith, local celebrity. I recognized him from his appearance in an American Express ad. He had the cheerful demeanor typically associated with evangelical youth pastors.
“And where is this all headed?” He inquired of the growing stack of sliced meat.
“I’m meeting my parents for a picnic at Town Lake.”
“Well that sounds delightful! Just delightful!” And he sliced away, flushed pink, like Santa’s jolly barbecue elf.
It came to around $70 for 1 pound of turkey, 1.5 pounds of rib, 1 pound of brisket (half fat, half lean), 1 pound of pulled pork, and a pint each of potato salad, coleslaw, and beans. For those of you not familiar with barbecue in barbecue country, everything comes wrapped in butcher’s paper, alongside a stack of cheap white bread, pickles, and sliced raw onions. A trio of barbecue sauces also accompanied the order, each one a slight, savory variation on sugars and spices.
I successfully transported the bag of meat, groaning at the seams, to a picnic table. We ate. It was great. It was greasy. It could only be the result of someone laboring many hours outdoors, bravely taming the elements of fire, metal, turkey, cow, and pig.
Mother and meat
When we had all reached capacity I demanded everyone tell me what a hero I was for standing in line, which they did, sluggishly.
Whether or not I budget the time to visit Franklin’s again anytime soon, it remains a fond fixture on my weekend sojourns downtown. Many late nights, coming home from the bars on 6th street, I walk past Franklin’s and hear a radio blaring, the opening and closing of metal contraptions, and see small, orange fires lit beneath the smokers. Soon the sun will come up, and while I’m still sleeping, someone will be first in line.