Is Austin’s Franklin Barbecue the Best in the World?

I’m a big fan of Texas barbecue, but had never been to its Mecca.

A year and a half ago I made Franklin Barbecue the first stop on my barbecue pilgrimage. I showed up long before opening, but the lines on a Saturday morning were already so long that I’d have to wait a couple of hours and the staff wouldn’t guarantee that there’d even be brisket left by the time I reached the front of the line. I was skeptical, given the party atmosphere in line, that the barbecue could be worth the wait — attractive young people tailgating couldn’t possible be there for the food as much as the experience, right?

But I’ve heard nothing since except that Franklin is the best in the world (technically, the best in Texas, but those two statements are more or less synonymous).

Still, I haven’t ever been in Austin midweek with the time to go when lines are shorter, or with the time to wait on a weekend to find out.

Fortunately I had the chance to attend a frequent flyer event, the Austin MegaDO, where one of the key attractions was a private dinner at Franklin Barbecue. No hours long lines, just frequent flyers and smoked meat.

And I’d finally get to find out if it lived up to the hype. Spoiler alert: It’s fantastic. The brisket is technically perfect. But – and this is definitely a minority view – I didn’t consider it to be the most flavorful I’ve had. Great, but not unequivocably “the best there is.”

I should qualify this by saying that I’ve only now been to Franklin once, and I need to try it more than a single time to render a useful judgment. And this was a private dinner, I need to compare it to standard opening hours — it’s conceivable that the brisket that cooks in the early hours of the morning is prepared differently than what they provide in the evening.

I arrived in Austin on Friday afternoon and had a chance to stop by the Starwood Preferred Guest reception at the Sheraton Austin. I drove there, it’s just a couple of blocks away from Franklin, and parked between the two stops in a strip mall.

The anchor of that mall — perfect for any frequent flyer gathering — is a CVS.

At about 7:30pm the group headed over to Franklin.

It was just our group, it’s a small restaurant comped to the usual demand but fit us perfectly.

There’s a handwritten menu on the wall you can see in line, and then a standard menu board when you reach the front.

Oddly, next to the register is the Travelocity gnome.

We had already pre-paid for the dinner as part of the event signup (apparently the Franklin Barbecue event sold out in 6 minutes!). It was somewhat subsidized, the Milepoint frequent flyer community that I co-founded helped to sponsor the evening.

You could have whatever you wished (including beer). I just asked for “as much moist brisket as you can give me, a rib, and sausage.”

It’s all about the sausage but I like to compare ribs, and the ‘snap’ in the sausage as well as the flavor.

There’s no question this was some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had. The brisket was moist without being especially fatty at all. But there’s the rub. Fat is flavor. So while was probably the most perfectly cooked brisket I’ve ever had, while it tasted great, it wasn’t the most flavorful brisket I’ve had. That honor has to go to Black’s —

Franklin’s rib was good. The sausage was fine, though I didn’t think it was standout.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to make it to Franklin, and to enjoy it in the company of other miles and points aficionados. And I can’t wait to visit again, get a second data point for comparison. But I’ll still make the trek out to Black’s in Lockhart — for the flavor, and because I won’t have to wait in line for two hours as well (although I’ll have to make the 30 minute drive from downtown Austin).


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, I know you are a big BBQ fan. On your next layover at O’hare skip the lounge and take the blue line el to the Irving Park stop and walk 2 blocks SE to Smoque BBQ. Also one of the top BBQs in the US a blend of Texas, KC and Carolinas.

  2. If you want the most perfect BBQ ribs on the planet, go visit Curtis’ All American Bar-B-Cue up in Putney, VT. The owner is a runaway sharecropper … really … and operates out of an old broken down school bus

  3. Thanks for the report. I wanted to try Franklin when I was in Austin a couple months ago. But I decided not to, because I thought the wait couldn’t possibly be worth the possible incremental taste/quality improvement over other great BBQ joints without the wait. Basically, you’re buying “buzz” while waiting in that line.

    Your report confirms my suspicion that the BBQ is good, but not actually worth the wait. Hopefully, sometime I cam get into a private event there and get their BBQ without the drama.

  4. Gary,
    With you 100% – did Franklins and Blacks on a recent AUS trip and Blacks was the clear winner. But for a new place opened in an actual city, Franklins is an amazing achievement.

  5. @Eric S – agreed, it’s amazing that you can manage to do great barbecue within the sots of regulation you find in a city, the old story was that Smitty’s in Lockhart bribed the fire marshalls with free barbecue…

  6. @Nick @ Personal Finance Digest – if by “accuracy” you mean “misinformation designed to keep the greatness of Texas barbecue a secret from the masses” then I agree with you completely. 🙂

  7. I live in Austin, and while Franklin’s is very good, it’s by far not the best. The original and best is in Lockhart, 30 miles south of the airport. Three BBQ joints: Smitty’s, Kreuz and Blacks. That’s where it all started and Franklin’s is just a copy. The long wait times at Franklin’s means by the time you get in, half of their inventory is gone. You’re better off driving to Lockhart, since at least there you can get several pounds worth of anything and take it home.

  8. I’m going to have to correct you here. My mother was born in Texas, I was born in Kansas City. Franklin’s is great but not the best. The World Series of BBQ Competition is held at the American Royal every October in Kansas City. It is the largest competition in the world.

    Secondly read Anthony Bourdain’s “13 Places To Eat Before You Die” Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City is listed. It’s in a gas station and it’s unbelievable.
    http://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/must-visit-restaurants

  9. @Parag – Salt Lick is hugely variable by location, wonder which you went to? In any case, not even in the same universe!! 🙂

  10. I used to live in Austin, and the only reason I’ve never gone to Franklin is because I have always found BBQ to be pretty standard in quality. I would say the same about red wine, which must mean I don’t have the most sensitive taste buds. Of all the BBQ places I’ve been, be it in central Texas, KC, Memphis, Nashville, or anywhere else I’ve never declared anywhere “The best”. Expected more out of the Salt Lick, too. Maybe I’m just underselling what Franklin actually is and even I would notice a difference in quality.

  11. FWIW, by the time I got through the line Fri night, the guy asked if I wanted more fatty or more lean. I went with the fatty. ‘Twas good but I agree with your general assessment.

    And of course there is always the preorder option to skip the line if you can plan a couple months in advance. (and can figure a way to get through 5 lbs of deliciousness)

  12. Amen on Black’s brisket. Unparalleled anywhere. Of the Lockhart BBQ joints, Kreuz and Smitty’s may get the most ink. But Black’s has the tastiest brisket.

  13. Fuck you!
    Eat yourself you animal abuser
    Hope you suffer from a heart attack/stroke/diabetes/cancer – animal revenge

  14. @disgusted Wow, lol. Certainly entitled to your opinions. Having said that, any good BBQ place in los angeles that may be half as good as texas?

  15. @JohnK there is awesome Texas BBQ in LA- Burnt to a Crisp Texas Smokehouse. LA’s first and only REAL Texas BBQ food truck, brings the taste of Texas to the streets! Usually out near Burbank, N Hollywood area but worth tracking them down. They post locations on facebook.

  16. I grew up near Lockhart, Texas, and when I was a kid we frequently ate at Smitty’s. (At the time the only eating utensils were the sharp knives permanently chained to the benches where you sat to eat. The knives and chains are now gone but you can still see the benches on the left as you stand in line.)

    Earlier this week Franklin’s in Austin inaugurated a larger pit, so they should be able to serve more patrons before running out. Supposedly in the works is the idea of a second food line, to reduce the wait time.

    I have a hard time saying which BBQ place is better, Smitty’s or Franklin’s, because they are both so damn good.

  17. @Gary, Smitty’s, Kreuz’s, Blacks’s…they are all good, way better than those so-called “BBQ” places in other states…

    Interesting factoid: IIRC, the owner of Smitty’s left it to his son and daughter. Daughter kept Smitty’s, son split off and built Kreuz’s.

  18. @Gary, Blacks is definitely excellent. I ate there with family on July 3 (date chosen to avoid long line, but evidently everyone else had the same plan).

  19. Next time you’re in Austin on a Saturday, make the drive out to Lexington and eat at Snow’s BBQ. They’re only open a couple of hours on Saturday morning, but even though it takes an hour drive each way, you’ll still have spent less time than at Franklin’s and for better brisket, IMHO. Texas Monthly named Snow’s the best BBQ in TX. Nice people and a nice drive out there.

  20. I think you might have meant CVS USED to be a great place for FF’s !!
    But since the end of Vanilla Reloads and One Vanilla GC’s , not so much any more !!!

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