By Matthew Rudy
Barbecue and golf are a lot alike. Traditionalists are never going to be converted, and progressives think the old ways are out of touch. If Franklin Barbecue in Austin had some leathery senior citizens working the pits in a sooty, third-generation storefront, the brisket that comes out of those pits would be called the greatest in the world by universal proclamation.
As it stands, thirtysomething former food-truck operator Aaron Franklin's meat only wins by majority vote.
For a place that cooks low and slow, Franklin Barbecue is generating serious heat after only five years in business. Texas Monthly crowned it the best barbecue in Texas (and the world) last year, as did Bon Appetit. Anthony Bourdain showed up to shoot an episode of his No Reservations show, as did celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa for the filming of a Chase commercial that's in heavy rotation.
The combination of otherworldly brisket, restricted hours and intense media attention makes Franklin the toughest seat in barbecue. The doors open at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and stay open only until that day's barbecue is gone. There are no reservations, and practically speaking, if you aren't in line by 10 a.m., you won't get any food.
I came up Tuesday morning the week of the Texas Open in San Antonio and caught the line halfway down the block outside Franklin's downtown Austin shop. Different employees come out from time to time to offer beer and soda and give an estimate of the wait time at different spots in line. They don't lie. It was 3:15 for a half pound of lean brisket, a half pound of fat brisket and a pound of pork ribs.
The ultimate question is, of course, was it worth it? If you're into barbecue, it's the new mecca, and something you have to do at least once. The brisket is something special -- a standout in a place with 15 world-class barbecue places with 30 square miles. Of course, you could drive the 25 miles to Lockhart, Texas, and walk into the three other joints that made Texas Monthly's Top 50 (Smitty's, Kreuz Market and Black's), order a different cut of meat at each, pay your check and drive back to San Antonio in the time it took you to wait in line.
But you wouldn't be able to tell people you tailgated in a three-hour meat line.