THE BBQ BELT WITH LEVINS: AUSTIN, TEXAS
Earlier this year my wife Bianca and I embarked on the Honeymoon of our dreams, driving through the Southern states of America, eating as much food as we could. We found out that Bianca was pregnant just before we left Australia, so luckily Bianca was eating for two – while I ate for at least five.
Throughout our trip we ate a tonne of Tex Mex, Cajun, soul food, all things grilled, fried and most importantly: smoked. For it was our desire for Barbecue that took us to Texas, then to Mississippi, Memphis, and North Carolina, to sample their finest slow smoked meats. Australia views itself as a BBQ nation, simply because we know how to burn a dozen Coles sausages and wrap them in saucy bread. But Barbecue in the States is so much more advanced, with every state we visited holding tightly to what their interpretation of BBQ is, never backing down from the belief that their way is the absolute best, with the assured cockiness usually reserved for only the richest of rappers.
I’ll be writing about our smoky adventures for the next few weeks, starting in Texas and making my way north. This is not so much a guide to best BBQ that America has to offer – I’d have to spend years eating my way through the South to claim any authority on the subject, and what a horrible experience that would be. Consider this a sampler plate – a beginners introduction to some incredible places to eat in the South. Please tie a bib around your neck and we’ll begin.
We fly into Austin from Phoenix – where it had been a dry and murderous 46 degrees celcius. Austin is good 8 degrees cooler. Maybe we should’ve packed thermal underwear. Staring at us from a stand at the airport is something that would become somewhat of a bible during our time in Texas – the latest issue of Texas Monthly, which boasts ‘The 50 Best BBQ Joints In The World‘ on the front cover. Inside is a hilarious editorial which claims that Texas style BBQ is the only BBQ worth a damn in America, therefore the 50 best BBQ joints in Texas are the best BBQ joints in THE WORLD. The balls on this magazine! Following the editorial is a tight list of Texas’s finest ‘cue, put together by a secret society of greasy reviewers – and at the top of this list is Franklin Barbecue.
Franklin BBQ, 900 E 11th St, Austin, TX +1 512-653-1187
It’s 8:30 in the morning and we are dropping my sister Emily off to get a spot in what is soon to be a ginormous line out the front of Franklin Barbecue in Austin. She runs out of the car, secures a place about ten people from the front of the line, and we drive off to get tacos for breakfast. When we return with a bag of Veracruz All Natural at 9am, there’s about 50 people behind Emily and two hours to go before Franklin opens it’s doors. The sun scorches everyone in line and we consider paying five bucks from the evil vendors renting out chairs.
The line is about 250 people deep by the time Franklin opens at 11am. The people at the end of the line may not even get any food as Franklin closes as soon as the meat runs out! Thankfully we’re the 4th group served, and since we left our restraint in Sydney, we order too much of evey single item on the menu, and a t-shirt. The friendly staff pile the glorious meat onto brown paper and tuck the tiny serves of slaw, beans and potato salad on the side, cowering beneath the huge serves of beef brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage and turkey. We get a few bottles of my favourite new drink as well – Topo Chico Mineral Water, and a cold mug of the beer brewed specially for Franklin.
The meat here is cooked to perfection. The staff start cooking at 2am each morning and every hour of smoke is evident in the beautiful smoke lines in the meat – especially the ribs. The beef brisket, the piece of meat that all Texans use to judge good ‘cue is out of this world tender, fatty and juicy. All the meat at Franklin is all kinds of adjectives that people use when they write about food on the internet. Some of the adjectives are in capitals, some of them are even bold and underlined, it’s that good.
One of the defining factors of Texas BBQ is that the meat is the star. Only the meat though. Texans rarely take pride in their sauce like other states do, and they only ingredients in the rub the apply to the meat is salt and pepper. In this hilariously condescending article from Texas Monthly, ‘Why Beef Brisket Is The Apex Of Smoked Meat‘, the writer bemoans any other meat besides beef, saying that “anybody with half a brain a cook pork” that’s “hacked to pieces and slathered with sauce”, slaw and a bun. Here’s the thing though – I love pork, I love sauce and slaw, and more than anything, I love vinegar with my BBQ. So while this meat is without a doubt perfectly cooked, and as good as Texas BBQ gets, I realise that Texas BBQ isn’t my kind of BBQ. Thankfully this is just the beginning of our BBQ pilgrimage, and there are so many more kinds of BBQ to be eaten.
Stay tuned for the rest of the smokey meat eating tour of America with Levins right here.