Ask a Texan about barbecue and expect to sit awhile. Fanatics, which includes just about everybody, wax on about tradition, pits, pit masters, how long to smoke the meat, what kind of wood to use, when and where to get the best. "Drive to Kreuz Market, in Lockhart." "Go to City Market, in Luling." "The best is at Louie Mueller, in Taylor." Or Smitty's, or Cooper's.
But the Q that is considered the silkiest, sweetest, the best in Texas today is smoked at Franklin Barbecue in downtown Austin.
Defying tradition and expectation, the pit master is not gnarled and weathered, but young and hip. Aaron Franklin, 35, was a nerdy upstart when he started selling his Q from an aqua trailer on a frontage road in 2009. Ah, it was sublime, but where did he get his chops? Seems Mr. Franklin's folks ran a place when he was a kid, and later, he worked for the nearly sainted John Mueller of barbecue clan fame. When Mr. Mueller burned out, so to speak, and left the business, Mr. Franklin bought the pit. The rest is history. Debates are heated over whether the pit or the man or their combination is what makes this barbecue tops.
But good luck trying to get a taste. Around 9 a.m., a line made up of tourists, pilgrims and regulars (who often pay placeholders to stand in line for them) starts snaking around the block. A little before the 11 a.m. opening, a line manager surveys the crowd to take pre-orders and estimate about when the meat will run out. And when that happens, around noon, Franklin's closes. Sorry, Charlie. 900 E. 11th St.; 512-653-1187; franklinbarbecue.com
Truth is, it's hard to go a mile without sniffing wood smoke, and any barbecue is better than no barbecue. Downtown, you'll find the real deal at Lamberts, Stubb's or Iron Works, which is near the convention center. Menus are pretty much the same: brisket, ribs, sausage, pork and chicken served on butcher paper with sides of red pinto beans, coleslaw, mac and cheese, soft sliced bread and pickle chips with peach cobbler or pecan pie to finish.