Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto (2015)
• Chapter Seven
Here’s my little confession: Since I spend most of my life back in the pits, managing fires and cooking meat, I don’t actually eat barbecue all that often. However, in the old days before the restaurant opened, I certainly spent my share of time parked in front of an epic barbecue spread—and I know that having delicious barbecue served to you is much more relaxing than cooking it is.
That said, I believe there’s as much an art to cutting, serving, and adorning barbecue as there is to cooking it. At Franklin Barbecue, we put a lot of effort into each one of those things, to make sure that all of our hard labor in preparing the food isn’t lost at the most important moment: when a diner sits down to eat. And whether you’re running a restaurant or just making barbecue for your friends and family, I urge you to pay close attention to the follow-through, right up to the moment when people are digging into the stuff.
In this chapter, I want to give you a little peek into what goes into serving lunch at the restaurant. Cutting brisket properly is practically as important as cooking it well, so I’m going to go into great detail on how to slice it for maximum efficiency and enjoyment. And no matter what you think about barbecue sauce (here in Central Texas, it’s an afterthought), I want you to have the recipes for the sauces we make. The espresso sauce is especially near to my heart, since it combines two of my greatest passions: coffee and barbecue. People tend to have one of two attitudes toward sides, as well. Some have no use for them, believing that all they do is take up room in the stomach that could otherwise be devoted to brisket, ribs, and sausage. Others, however, feel that beans, potato salad, and slaw are an essential part of the barbecue experience. Either way, I offer our humble recipes for those too. Finally, I might rightly be accused of feeling that barbecue is really nothing more than a vehicle to accompany one of my other great passions, beer. At the end, I offer my well-researched conclusions on what styles of beer go best with barbecue.
At the restaurant, the position I care about most—and the one I spend the most time on when it comes to hiring—is the person who stands up at the counter, takes the meat order, and cuts the meat. We call that person “the cutter,” and it’s the hardest job in the restaurant. That’s because slicing, serving, and presenting barbecue takes a fair amount of skill. We own a restaurant that feeds hundreds of people every day, so I take serving barbecue very seriously. How the food is presented and how it looks on the tray are both very important to me. These things might be less important to someone cooking at home, but they shouldn’t be. Even when I cook at home, I want the food to look good.
Cutting meat is a simple process, so why is cutting lunch so hard? First of all, it’s a long, long shift, three to four hours of a constant barrage of hungry people who have waited for up to five hours to get their lunch. Once we open the doors, the line does not stop, so you have to be ready. You can’t run off to the restroom or take a coffee break. You have to slice and slice.
And slice and be nice. You’re also the first person to interact with the customer, so you have to be friendly, make them feel welcome and at ease. “So, where’re you from? Sheboygan? You don’t say …” Then you might have to help them with their order, as most people don’t necessarily know what they want when you ask them, “fatty or lean?” (we’ll get to that later), and they don’t really have an idea of how much they want by the pound, which is how barbecue is sold.
To cut lunch, you have to know brisket. Every brisket is different (even at Franklin Barbecue, where we work really hard to ensure consistency), and you have to be able to make quick assessments on how each one is going to slice, which sections might be tender, which are especially lean and crumbly. You have to make good, precise cuts, which is not always easy with the kind of super-tender brisket we serve. We want to get every last edible morsel out of a brisket, and bad slicing can end up meaning lost product. You have to make sure that each slice is what it should be and is consistent, that it has the right amount of bark, the right amount of fat, the right amount of meat. There must be no big glob of seam fat and no big crunchy burnt piece off the back of the point. It’s almost like a magic trick, requiring quick, agile hands. You hold up a glisteningly perfect piece of brisket with one hand to show the customer—“Does that look good for you?”—while you slide a chunk of burnt edge into the trash with the other.
You have to make it look good. The customer is standing right in front of you watching your every move. You’re the one and only connection between that person and all of the people in the back who have helped cook that meat. If a piece of brisket looks off in some way (God forbid!), our first time to see it is the same as the customer’s. It has to look great.
Finally, you have to be able to judge supply, constantly being aware of how much brisket and ribs are left versus the length of the line snaking out the door. Before we even open the doors, our staff has gone out to survey the line for how much food each party is planning on ordering. This is because every day we have more people in line than we have food to serve, and we don’t want anyone to wait in line too long and not get fed. So we have a “last man standing” placard that goes to the last person we guarantee food for. After that person, we leave it up to those people behind him or her to decide if they want to chance it. If you’re cutting lunch, you need to be aware of the number of people left waiting to be fed at the end. You have to manage your portions and what parts you might keep, how many bites you are able to give away, and what parts you might be able to stretch depending on the number of people left to feed. (If you mess up either of these things, God help you … and the poor folks who waited in line when there was no more brisket.)
The person who cuts lunch must not only have the front-of-the-house skills and charisma of a good bartender or server but also possess the knowledge of how the meat is cooked and the knife skills of a cook. These are not easy people to find. All of this is a way of saying that cutting and serving barbecue is important. Don’t concentrate solely on the cooking part of it and let proper service slide once you’re almost home. You might have made the best barbecue in the world, but if you screw it up at the slicing table, no one’s ever going to know.
HOW TO ORDER BARBECUE AT A RESTAURANT
When you get up to the front of the line at Franklin Barbecue or any Central Texas joint, if you’re a first timer, you may not know what you want to order. At our place, someone has probably already polled you in line on what and how much you’re going to get, so it shouldn’t be difficult. Also, we try to be friendly.
I’ll admit this isn’t the case everywhere, but I believe that wherever you go, you should get precisely what you want.
If you say you’d like some brisket, at most Central Texas spots, you’ll be asked what kind and how much? You’ll have noted that they sell by the pound and you’ll be thinking to yourself, How many pounds can I eat? With such thinking, many people commit themselves to overordering. So, while it’s fine to order a pound or a half pound, it’s also acceptable to order one slice or two slices or whatever. In this day and age, everyone has a digital scale that can do the calculations, so it makes no difference to us whether you order by weight or by amount.
You’ll then be asked what kind of brisket you want, lean or moist? At Franklin, that’ll be lean or fatty. If you’ve read the preceding chapters of this book, you’ll know that question refers to whether you want a slice off the leaner flat end of the brisket or the fattier point. It’s your call. You’re also welcome to ask for a piece that’s heavy on bark or even something crispy, if they’ve got it.
Likewise, you needn’t feel the pressure to order ribs by the pound. It’s fine to order one rib or two ribs or however many you want. Same goes for pretty much anything else on the menu. Just order any way you want and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
When I was really getting into barbecue, before I ever dreamed of having my own restaurant, I had a standard order when I went to visit places around Texas: half a pound of moist brisket and ribs, with a side of potato salad. I’d order a sausage only if it was made in-house, and I’d ask for the barky end piece off the flat of the brisket, if they had it.
HOW TO SLICE A BRISKET
Everybody has his or her own method for slicing brisket, but there’s one thing on which we can all agree: never, ever slice with the grain. That one mistake can turn even a beautifully cooked, moist, and jiggly brisket into brutal strands of chewy fiber. Beyond that one, simple truism, though, there are many ways to do it, and many of them work well.
It’s important to know that, just like the way a song is performed can determine a lot about your ability to enjoy it, the way a brisket is sliced will have an impact on the way you perceive that meat. For instance, if you go to a not-so-great barbecue joint, you might find yourself getting a plateful of paper-thin slices. That’s a time-honored, wily technique for trying to hide brisket that’s way too tough. Likewise, if you get really thick slices, the place might be hiding that the brisket was overcooked and is so overly tender that it lacks any structural integrity (or, it might just mean that somebody rushed through the cutting). If the slices weren’t thick, they would fall apart before they got to the plate.
But let’s start with the knife. At some places you might see the slicer using an electric knife. While I understand why people might resort to an electric knife—ease, comfort, avoiding the risk of carpal tunnel for people who cut brisket for hours and hours—I can’t condone its use. First, it’s really slow, taking forever to get through a single slice. Second, you can’t feel the blade cutting through the meat, which is important. You receive all sorts of sensory information about the brisket—texture, level of doneness and rendering—from the knife. My favorite knife for slicing isn’t fancy at all. It’s a serrated, 12-inch Dexter-Russell slicing knife, model S140-12SC. It’s the kind with a white plastic handle that you can buy at any restaurant supply store. I like it because the serrations are sharp and well defined but not scalloped. That’s going to help you get through the softness of the bark without ripping it to shreds, which is a constant risk.
It’s the very anatomy of a brisket that makes it such a challenge to slice well. As you know, the whole packer-cut brisket is made up of two muscles, the flat and the point. And the point sits right on top of the flat, separated by a thin layer of fat. The only problem with this arrangement is that the grain of the meat in the flat runs perpendicular to the grain of the point meat. So if you want your brisket to be sliced into nice, tender pieces, you’re going to have to cut each section a little bit differently.
Cutting Brisket, Step by Step
My approach to slicing brisket is based on one simple goal: maximizing the deliciousness of every single piece. To me, the bark holds the most flavor and texture. You can’t have a great piece of brisket if it doesn’t sport at least a small section of bark, so I try to cut it in a way that ensures every piece a decent bark-to-meat ratio. That’s why I don’t separate the point from the flat before slicing, the way some people do: the part of the flat sitting directly underneath the point will have no bark. At the restaurant, we may very well not serve some of the meat from this part, as parts of it can be too fat-laden or mushy to be cut into a coherent slice. If it’s too fatty, we’ll throw it away, and if it’s all meat, we may save it to use as chop in the Tipsy Texan sandwich, or add it to the beans. Home cooks out there will likely want to save it, even if it doesn’t make for great slices.
• You want to wait to cut the brisket until it’s cool enough to touch with your hands, maybe an hour or so after you’ve pulled it from the smoker. Unwrap the brisket and lay it in front of you (see PHOTO 1). I’m right-handed, so I like to start with the flat on the right and the point on my left.
• Before I do anything, I imagine the line where the point terminates and where the flat dips underneath it (see PHOTO 2). You’ll know where this is because you’ll see the seam of fat that runs between them, and you’ll be able to see the point begin to rise up from the flat. You can actually feel the point shift around on top of the flat if you gently move it with your hand. This is the place where I’m going to stop slicing the flat. It’s not exactly parallel or symmetrical to the end of the flat (on my right), so I also visualize the way my slices will sort of have to fan out across the arc of the meat if I want them to be even and uniform.
• The first cut I make is called the end cut. It’s just the little tapered section on the far end of the flat. It’s mostly bark and therefore delicious. A perfect end cut is a good indicator of a well-cooked brisket: this is one of the best pieces you can get! I usually slice the end cut in half and offer the two little nubs as a snack for whoever’s at the front of the line at the time (see PHOTOS 3 AND 4).
• Now slice the flat. The left hand (for righties) is very important in slicing brisket. If your brisket is really tender, it’s your left hand that’s going to keep it together as you’re running the knife across it. You’ve got to apply a bit of pressure to hold it together, so don’t be shy. I put my left hand very gently on top of the flat to hold it down and hold it together and then I start slicing across the flat. You want to aim for slices that are ¼ inch thick, the size of a no. 2 pencil, as I like to say. I slice across the flat evenly and gently, cutting it into nice, uniform strips. It’s not necessary to be exactly perpendicular to the grain, but rather just cut across it in some way. The flat is never a perfectly even rectangle, so you’ll find yourself fanning your angle out a bit. Move the knife smoothly and confidently, sawing gently back and forth. Use the thumb of your nonslicing hand to hold the bark in when necessary, as the serrations of the knife will want to pull some of that bark off (and you don’t want this to happen). Stop slicing when you reach the beginning of the point—it’s that line you visualized before you started (see PHOTOS 5 AND 6).
• Now that you’ve sliced the flat, keeping its slices firmly together (unless you’ve already served them to a hungry crowd), move the sliced flat out of the way. Sitting in front of you should be the whole, uncut point section of the brisket. Swivel this whole piece 90° (see PHOTO 7) so its exposed side is now facing you. With your left hand, gently pull back the right side of this piece and you’ll find underneath the bark a really jiggly slab of fat with a little meat attached to it. Cut this part away with the knife (see PHOTOS 8 AND 9). We throw this slice of mostly fat away.
• Turn the point 180° so that the exposed side where it was connected to the flat is now facing away from you (see PHOTO 10). This is where we slice the point in half. It’s helpful to cut the whole point in half because it is so soft and moist that it’s more manageable to slice this way. After you cut it in half, you can pick up one-half and get that money shot everyone loves of a big chunk of super-tender, moist, dripping brisket (see PHOTO 11).
• You’ll now be slicing the point against the grain. I like to cut the left half of the point first. Start delicately cutting from the middle out to the edge in slices ⅜ inch thick (the width of a large pencil), or almost twice as thick as you sliced the flat. Place your left hand flat against the bark, gently holding it down as you slice. Keep the slices together as much as possible to prevent the juices from running out across the board (though a lot of juice still will). Also, if you’re not going to serve the whole thing at one sitting, the brisket stays juicier and fresher for longer when left intact and unsliced (see PHOTO 12).
• If you’re going to slice up the whole thing, move the left half of the point (which you have just sliced) out of the way and pick up the right half. Put it in front of you with the sliced side to your right (for righties) and slice it in the same manner as you sliced the other half of the point. When you get to the end, where it’s mostly bark, you might find it helpful to push the bark over in front of the knife to make sure that every last possible slice has both some bark and some meat (see PHOTO 13). It’s hard to explain, but when you start cutting it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’ll be left with a thin slice of mostly bark at the end. This is the burnt end, and you can slice it into delicious little snacky-snacks for the hungry hordes who are waiting for you to finish all of this darn slicing!
• If you’ve cooked the brisket well, the point should stay together, but you might encounter some shreds of beef or little scraps coming from the remnants of the flat underneath it. Take those bits that stay behind along with any little crunchy edges and save them for either the chopped beef or the beans.
• You can judge a great slice and the success of the brisket cook by applying the “pull test.” Hold up a slice of brisket between the thumb and index finger of both hands. Now gently pull it apart. The brisket slice should easily break, but it shouldn’t fall apart. If it crumbles apart or disintegrates, it’s overdone. If it stretches out, it hasn’t been cooked long enough.
THE TIPSY TEXAN
At Franklin Barbecue, our menu is mostly traditional Central Texas fare. There is one oddity, however: the Tipsy Texan sandwich, which is essentially a pile of chopped beef, sausage, slaw, and sauce served on a bun. This giant, honking sandwich costs only eight dollars, and considering how much of our prized brisket we use for each one, it’s a pretty good deal for the customer (and decidedly not cost-effective for the restaurant). I’m not going to lie: I get a little wistful every time I have to chop up some of our beautiful brisket and slap it on a bun. So why do I still keep the Tipsy Texan on the menu? Honestly, I can’t really say. But, like the weather or a birthmark, it’s just something we have to live with.
The origins of the sandwich date to the earliest days of the Franklin Barbecue trailer. A prominent local bartender, who billed himself as the Tipsy Texan (and still does), would come to eat and, per his request, I’d make him one of these stupid-big sandwiches. In its present-day incarnation, it’s a monstrous assemblage of chopped lean brisket mixed with espresso sauce, sausage, slaw, sauce, pickles, and onions, and it probably weighs 1¼ pounds.
In my opinion, the best time to make a Tipsy Texan is when you have extra chips of chopped lean brisket, which we like to mix with Espresso Barbecue Sauce. But when we don’t have chips lying around, our only option is to slice fresh brisket and chop it up—a move that causes many brisket purists to gasp in horror. We top the chopped brisket with a sliced whole sausage, sliced pickles and onions, and finally with about ½ cup of slaw.
What’s my final verdict on the Tipsy Texan? Well, it is certainly one of the most delicious and decadent ways to use up leftover brisket—no doubt about it. But it is certainly not the ideal use for pristine brisket. I guess we just keep it around for the sake of tradition. I should also note that if you can get your mouth around one and finish it, you might consider a career in professional eating.
In the rest of the country, sauce is an essential, inseparable component of barbecue. In Central Texas, barbecue sauce is considered optional, at best.
You see, in Central Texas we believe that well-made barbecue has no need for sauce. If the pitmaster has done his or her job, the well-balanced flavors of great beef or pork and sweet oak smoke are complex enough and delicious enough to stand on their own. It’s the German-Czech orthodoxy we’ve inherited, and until recently, there still were places that stayed true to the meat-market origins of the cuisine and didn’t offer sauce (or silverware) for their meat. Nowadays, however, pretty much everyone has sauce because diners expect it. And while I truly believe really good barbecue needs no sauce, a little bit can be nice to accentuate the flavors in the meat. But it has to be good sauce.
Bad sauce for me lacks balance—it’s too sweet, too thick, too something. And my ultimate hallmark of a bad sauce is a sauce that has liquid smoke in it. Smoke flavoring should come from the meat (and not too much of it, mind you).
Barbecue sauce doesn’t make good barbecue, but it can certainly complement good barbecue. There really isn’t a Texas-style sauce. Up in the Panhandle, sauce tends to be a bit more midwestern, while in East Texas it tends to have the sweet and ketchupy notes of the Deep South. At Louie Mueller, you get a light, watery sauce with margarine, but if you go to our place, our everyday sauce is a well-balanced ketchup sauce with a little bit of cumin and chile powder going on.
Our sauce is what I’d call Central Texas style in that it’s tomato based and balanced between sweet and savory with a bit of acidity. It’s really just meant to lubricate already moist meat, to add sweetness that highlights the savory flavor of smoke, and to contribute acidity that helps balance the richness of the fat and protein. I’ve been working on sauces since the early days of my barbecue cooking endeavor. Stacy ruefully remembers periodically getting home from her restaurant job late at night and me excitedly forcing her to try a spoonful of barbecue sauce the second she walked through the door. That said, I hit on these basic recipes pretty early on and have stuck with them ever since, believing they’re the best suited to our style of cooking.
REGULAR BARBECUE SAUCE
This is what I call sweet sauce, even though it’s not terribly sweet on the spectrum of barbecue sauces. It’s a good, all-purpose sauce. We bottle it, sell it, and put it on the tables in the restaurant. I also mix it with vinegar to sauce the spare ribs when I cook them.
Makes about 3 cups
• 1¾ cups ketchup
• ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
• ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
• ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
• ¼ cup plus 1½ teaspoons brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tablespoon chile powder
• 1 tablespoon ground cumin
• 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
• 1½ teaspoons coarse black pepper
Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and warm gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally. There is no need to bring the mixture to a boil, as the idea is just to warm it enough to melt and integrate the ingredients. Once you have done that, remove from the heat and let cool. Transfer to a jar, bottle, squeeze bottle, or however you want to store it. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
ESPRESSO BARBECUE SAUCE
Nowadays various recipes for coffee barbecue sauces are floating around. But when I first came up with mine, it was an original and inspired distillation of my life at the time. I was working at Little City coffee shop, starting to get geeky about coffee and even geekier about barbecue.
An all-nighter on a brisket cook was inevitably accompanied by strong coffee, and it didn’t take a genius to notice the affinity that starlight, the sweet roasted aromas of good espresso, and the homey aromas of wood and smoke have for one another. If these smells go so well together in the middle of the night, I thought to myself, their flavors should just as easily merge into a sauce. And the sauce was a way to capture that experience of being awake in the depths of the night watching a fire.
It didn’t turn out to be that easy to bring the flavors together. The first time I made the sauce, I used a little Krups espresso machine that a guy I worked with at Little City had given me. And the sauce seemed great to me. Then I tried to refine it, but when I forced a taste of the “improved” version on Stacy, she told me it was nasty and that I needed to hang it up. Then I went back to my original recipe with a few, small tweaks, and it was a go.
It’s important to note that there is no substitute for the espresso in this recipe. If you don’t have access to an espresso machine, I would take some of the warm sauce to a reputable coffee shop, get them to pull a shot for you, and mix them together there. I know it sounds weird and may even be slightly embarrassing, but the results are worth it. A freshly pulled shot with a good crema brings much more to this recipe than a stale or cold one. I prefer a medium-roast, Central American bean (Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica). The brisket drippings are a matter of taste, but I believe this sauce needs the beefiness to make it taste right.
Makes about 2 cups
• 1½ cups ketchup
• ½ cup white vinegar
• ½ cup cider vinegar
• ¼ cup dark soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon garlic powder
• 1 tablespoon onion powder
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons (1½ ounces) freshly pulled espresso
• Brisket drippings, for flavoring
Mix the ketchup, both vinegars, the soy sauce, garlic and onion powders, and sugar together in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, stir in the espresso, and then add the brisket drippings to taste. Let cool, then transfer to a jar, bottle, squeeze bottle, or however you want to store it. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
This is the non-Carolina vinegar sauce that I created to go with my non-Carolina pulled pork. Use whatever hot sauce you like or whatever you’ve got around. Of course, some are hotter than others, so consider how spicy you want the sauce to be.
Makes about 3 cups
• 1 cup white vinegar
• 1 cup cider vinegar
• 1 cup ketchup
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons hot sauce
• Dash of Worcestershire sauce
• 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
• Kosher salt and coarse black pepper
Combine all of the ingredients, including salt and pepper to taste, in a saucepan and warm gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally. There is no need to bring the mixture to a boil, as the idea is just to warm it enough to melt and integrate the ingredients. Transfer to a jar, bottle, squeeze bottle, or however you want to store it. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
FIG ANCHO BEER BARBECUE SAUCE
I don’t serve this at the restaurant, but I do make fun sauces for some events—and this sauce combines a few of my favorite things.
Makes about 6 cups
• 4 ancho chiles, rehydrated in 4½ cups hot water and the water reserved
• 12 figs, grilled, stemmed, and quartered
• ½ yellow onion, sliced
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 1½ cups brown sugar
• 1 (12-ounce) bottle (1½ cups) stout or porter beer (I prefer Left Hand Brewing’s milk stout)
• 1 cup ketchup
• ½ cup white vinegar
• ½ cup cider vinegar
• 6 tablespoons fig preserves
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the chiles, figs, and onion in the butter for about 10 minutes, until the figs and chiles are tender and the onion is translucent. Transfer to a blender and add the sugar, stout, ketchup, both vinegars, the preserves, honey, salt, and pepper. Puree until smooth, adding as much of the reserved chile soaking liquid as needed to reach the desired texture. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
ACCOUTREMENTS: DILL PICKLE SLICES, SLICED ONIONS, AND INDUSTRIAL WHITE BREAD
The German and Czech heritage of Central Texas barbecue is evident not only in the kinds of meats we serve but also in the classic accompaniments for the meats. Not every style of barbecue requires large vats of pickles and sliced onions to be on offer right after you come out of the service line. And although these are add-ons, many people consider them to be highly important to the Texas barbecue experience.
And I don’t disagree. The sharpness of dill pickles (sweet pickles or bread-and-butter chips don’t work) and of raw white onion is the perfect counter to the unctuousness of good meat (as is beer). Good ole industrial white bread adds a sweet flavor and soft textural touch to the mixture. With brisket, eat these things in combinations and sequences of your own choosing. Some people wrap a slice of brisket in a piece of bread, add a couple of dashes of sauce, and garnish with a few slices of pickle and onion for a delicious sandwich wrap. Others might just pop a couple of pickle morsels and raw onion slivers into their mouth after a particularly good bite of brisket and sausage. Use these tools to your own delight.
In the world of Central Texas barbecue, people treat sides pretty much the same way they treat sauces: they’re fine, but you should probably just save the room in your stomach for barbecue. Indeed, the meat-market heritage of Central Texas barbecue doesn’t include sides either. But, like sauces, sides have become a staple of the barbecue spread, and today we serve, eat, and enjoy them just the same.
We get a lot of requests for our bean recipe. What makes it so popular? Probably the simple fact that it’s another way of delivering brisket, which is its second-most important ingredient (arguably).
Makes about 8 cups; serves 8 to 10
• 1 pound dried pinto beans, picked over and rinsed
• ½ cup diced yellow onion
• ½ cup bean seasoning (recipe follows)
• 8 cups water
• 1 cup chopped brisket bark and shredded meat
Combine the beans, onion, bean seasoning, and water in a large pot and let soak for 4 to 6 hours, or for up to overnight, which is what we do in the restaurant.
Add the brisket bark and meat to the soaked beans and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook for 3 to 4 hours, until the beans are tender.
Makes about 2 cups
• 1 cup chile powder
• ½ cup kosher salt
• ¼ cup coarse black pepper
• 2 tablespoons onion powder
• 2 tablespoons garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
Combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container.
I spent hours peeling potatoes, drinking beers, and talking to friends when Stacy and I had our little barbecue trailer. I like flavor, so we engineered this salad to have a nice, mustardy bite and lots of pickles in the German-Czech tradition.
Makes about 6 cups; serves 12
• 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch (or smaller) dice
• 1 cup mayonnaise
• ½ cup yellow mustard
• ¾ cup chopped dill pickles
• 1 tablespoon pickle juice
• 1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Cook the potatoes in a pot of boiling water just until tender. Drain, transfer to a bowl, and let cool. In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, pickle juice, pepper, and salt. Add to the cooled potatoes, toss and stir to mix well, cover, and refrigerate immediately. The salad will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. Serve cold.
Coleslaw serves an important purpose not just as a side, but also as a condiment for barbecue. It offers a crunchy textural contrast to tender meat, and its vinegary zip is a nice counter to the sweet, fatty, and smoky flavors we serve at Franklin. And of course, it’s an important component of the Tipsy Texan sandwich. This tangy slaw is great alongside all sorts of barbecued meats.
Makes about 2 cups
• ½ pound (about 2 cups) shredded cabbage mix
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• ¼ cup sour cream
• 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
• 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
• 2¼ teaspoons coarse black pepper
• 1½ teaspoons dry mustard powder
Place the cabbage in a colander or strainer and sprinkle with the salt. Let the cabbage sit and exude some of its juice while you prepare the dressing. In a large bowl, stir together the sour cream, mayonnaise, cider vinegar, rice vinegar, pepper, and mustard powder. Blot away any excess moisture from the cabbage with a towel, then transfer to the bowl containing the dressing and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve cold.
WHAT TO DRINK WITH BARBECUE
I like beer. I like lots of other things too, but I really like beer. In fact, it’s not at all rare to find one in my hand.
When it comes to pairing beer and barbecue, the first rule is, yes! The second rule is, there are no rules. That said, I do have my own personal preferences.
Now, I must preface all that’s about to follow with the general assertion that I like most beers. But my favorites all share certain characteristics. I’m not into ultra-hoppy beers. They can be exciting for the first half of the beer but end up fatiguing the palate by the end. They also don’t pair very well with barbecue—or with a lot of foods, for that matter. I really like more malty beers.
I also really enjoy beers on the lower end of the alcohol scale. This is largely because “sessionability”—a beer’s capacity to be consumed comfortably in decent amounts without incurring palate fatigue, slurred speech, motor-skill impairment, and general dufusness—is important to me. I like to drink beer, but I don’t like to get drunk, so something not too potent and with a generally balanced and tasteful approach is perfect for me.
Luckily, this seems to be the kind of beer that also turns on lots of Texan brewers, which is one reason I’m so enthusiastic about the brewing scene in this state. Maybe it’s only natural that in a hot climate where we drink beer as a form of hydration, mild, sessionable, low-alcohol beers are not hard to find. That doesn’t mean that the beers lack flavor or crispness or interest. It just means that it’s pleasant to drink more than one of them and to drink them with food.
If I were to name a staple beer for me in life, it would be the Big Bark amber lager from Live Oak Brewing of Austin, one of the best breweries anywhere, if you ask me. Big Bark beer has been on tap at the restaurant since we opened. How perfect is it for barbecue and for me? Well, like Central Texas barbecue, it’s has a Czech and German influence—specifically in the form of the Czech and German malts that go into it. It’s also got German hops, but not too much—just enough to balance the malt notes. And I like that it has “bark,” just like the best part of the brisket, though only in the beer’s name. Smooth, balanced, and reddish amber—it’s ideal.
But lots of beers are good with barbecue. Even some of the larger-scaled beers like Shiner Bock and Lone Star go real well. Hans’ Pils from Real Ale Brewing Company, another Hill Country favorite, is relentlessly refreshing and sessionable. I’m also crazy about the beers from Austin’s Hops and Grain brewery. Their Altbier, called Alt-eration, is technically an ale but has a crispness and light hoppiness along with a copper-amber color that makes it not too far off from the style of Big Bark, which is a lager.
Jester King, another local brewery, specializes in sour beers. I’m not always a fan of really tart, sour beers, but a mild sour is delicious, and Jester King makes some good stuff. I think smoke and beer go well together in general, but Ron Extract, one of the founders of Jester King and a serious beer scholar, points out that smoke and sour flavors are a classic combination. “All beer would have originally been smoked,” he says, noting that before the days of modern malting techniques, malt was made by drying the grains, after allowing them to steep and start to germinate, over fire, which would have imparted smokiness. He also suggests that most beer in the old days would have been at least slightly sour and funky, since commercial yeast (which is relatively stable and allows for a predictable and notably less funky fermentation taste) had not yet been cultivated. This meant that brewers had to rely on unpredictable wild yeasts to ferment the beer. Wild yeasts are difficult to control and can take fermentations in all sorts of directions, leading to the funky, sour flavors we associate with that style of beer.
If I had to distill my beer-and-barbecue philosophy into a few key points, they’d probably go something like this:
1 • Excessively hoppy beers, such as West Coast–style IPAs, tend to overwhelm the palate. I don’t like to pair them with barbecue very much, as their intense grassy, floral flavors seem to conflict with the mellow, smoky-peppery flavors of the meat.
2 • Super-boozy beers and barbecue don’t really mix. After drinking a few, you’re not really going to be able to appreciate the taste of the barbecue (and if you’re mid-cook, you risk losing focus). Session beers in the 5% ABV or lower range are my go-to, as I like to be able to drink a lot of beers without getting drunk.
3 • Czech- and German-style beers are a natural pairing for Central Texas–style barbecue. In warmer weather, I gravitate toward crisp, refreshing styles—think pilsner, Kölsch, or Altbier. In the autumn and winter, I might go for one of the darker styles, like a bock or porter.
4 • Smoked meat loves sour beer! Try a sessionable style like Berliner Weisse, which often clocks in around 3% ABV.
5 • Smoked meat and smoked beer work well together too. In fact, I like this combination so much, I once teamed up with the folks at Thirsty Planet Brewing Company to create the Franklin Barbecue smoked porter (sadly no longer in production), and with Jester King to create a beer with grilled, smoked figs!
Snake River Farms
CENTRAL TEXAS BREWERIES
Jester King Brewery
Live Oak Brewing Company
• There are many online sources for various types of wood chips and chunks, but your best bet for buying whole logs is to find a local source via Craigslist.
BOOKS AND WEBSITES
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 1984.
Myhrvold, Nathan, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet. Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. Bellevue, WA: The Cooking Lab, 2011.
• An amazing compendium of barbecue knowledge, not just in the Central Texas style, but also for all the different styles of cooking meat.
I poured what I know about barbecue into this book, but this tome and even the restaurant itself wouldn’t have been possible without all the collaboration, unfettered support, and hard work of so many people over the years.
First and foremost I thank my wife, Stacy Franklin, the real reason any of this ever happened, and the most vital part of everything I am and do.
Hey, Benji Jacob: Those things don’t work on water, unless you’ve got power! Benji is the third pillar on which Franklin Barbecue stands; he has committed almost as much of himself to this project as Stacy and I have, and has always been unimaginably generous with his hard work, time, and creativity.
Ben and Debbie Franklin, my parents, planted the seeds for this in many, many ways (besides the obvious one). Introducing me to barbecue and restaurant ownership at a young age and helping get things off the ground with some early funds are just two of the ways. Thanks so much.
Thanks to Tommy and Anita Howard, my grandparents. I grew up in their music store, and hanging out with them was a huge influence—without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Among many other things, they gave me a sense of how to run a family business and an enduring love of music.
Also to my parents-in-law, Helen and Steve Jefferson: Thanks for spending so much time in Austin and always being there to lend a helping hand.
Same to Big Jeff Keyton and Travis Kizer, two guys who believed in me from the get-go, and through gestures big and small have helped me find just a smidge of success in the barbecue world.
Braun Hughes—brisket wizard, workhorse extraordinaire—has been there with me through thick and thin. Braun, besides being part of the family, you keep everything running, and we couldn’t do it without you. Thanks, esé. Thanks also to the entire staff at the restaurant and to all the good employees who have ever worked with me. Franklin Barbecue wouldn’t be what it is without all the people who have lent a piece of themselves to this project. And that would include Melissa, the pie woman, often the first person I talk to in a day (when working a rib shift and she comes in at 4 or 5 in the morning to drop off the day’s desserts). Also, I thank Rod, the wood guy, for keeping me in the good stuff and saving me from even more headaches. The wood is good. And Dr. Jeff Savell, Meat Science professor of A&M: thanks for bringing barbecue into the academy and giving us all a slight sense of actual sophistication.
When it comes to this book, I’ve got to recognize David Hale Smith for his hard work and commitment to getting the thing done, as well as for all the other times he’s helped me navigate life’s pesky fine print. Wyatt McSpadden’s photos were totemic for me when I was getting into barbecue, so it was the greatest of honors to have him lend his immense talents to this book. Wyatt’s also one of the greatest guys to just hang around and drink a beer with. Thanks to him, his wife, Nancy, and his assistant, Will. Also, thanks to Jordan Mackay for his words. He somehow managed to make sense of what regularly spills out of my mouth and then spin it into a whole book with things like organization and punctuation. And then Emily Timberlake, our editor at Ten Speed, made sense of his work, while our designer Betsy Stromberg made it all look like a real book. Truly a team effort, so thanks to all the people who made this book a reality.
And, finally, I want to extend my greatest gratitude to all the customers, supporters, and people who’ve waited hours in line to eat at Franklin Barbecue or at various festivals around the country. I am truly humbled and honored that people consider what we’ve worked so hard to create to be worthy of their time and energy. Without all of you, honestly, none of this would have ever happened. I hope you’ll keep coming back and that you’ll enjoy this book.
• Aaron Franklin
As work on the book came to a close my wife, Christie Dufault, volunteered that I didn’t have to thank her in the acknowledgments because she really doesn’t have much to do with barbecue. As someone who sees herself a vegan at heart who is coerced by her husband into all-too-often consuming meat, she sort of had a point. But what she doesn’t realize is that she’s at the heart of everything I do. It is she that I strive to make proud, and her tolerance of my frequent smoke-tinged trips to Austin, my idiosyncratic work habits, and otherwise self-indulgent way of life allow me to be the sort of writer I want to be. So, sorry, honu, but thanks—for being our anchor and for making me laugh.
I also want to offer gratitude to my mom, Leslie, and to Neal for putting me up all those weeks I was working on the book and for re-arranging their lives so that I could save money by borrowing one of their cars. All that meant a lot. Plus, it was nice to get to spend some time around y’all. Also, I’d be remiss for not mentioning that all that time I was in Austin was likewise made possible by our dear neighbors and great friends Paul and Vanessa Einbund, who looked after Fernie and Thornie.
Thanks also to David Hale Smith for thinking to bring me in on this project and for being there every step of the way. David Black, thanks for getting this deal done; I see great projects in the future. This is my third book at Ten Speed, so I must extend gratitude to Aaron Wehner for continuing to have confidence in me. I also consider myself fortunate to have worked with Emily Timberlake, our wonderful editor. She contributed more than anyone will know. And, of course, muchos gracias to the great Harold McGee, who deigned to look over parts of this book to ensure they made scientific sense.
And, lastly, hail to Aaron Franklin for letting me do this project with him and for squeezing me into his ridiculously busy life (and therefore thanks to Stacy for likewise tolerating my continuous presence). Working on this book has been incredible for me—not just in what I’ve learned about barbecue, wood, welding, meat, and smoke, but in the general confidence I’ve gained in myself. Aaron, all that comes directly from your own immense knowledge and your own extraordinary, unshakable confidence. I just wish you could come see my backyard, because only you can figure out how to get that thing you built into it.
• Jordan Mackay