BBQ trip #2 is in the books. This time around, we focused solely on Austin. This decision was made essentially for one reason – we HAD to try Franklin BBQ. We couldn’t wait any longer to see if this little shop on 11th Street could live up to the enormous hype.
The line at Franklin BBQ
After a couple of write-ups in the New York Times (including one that named it the best BBQ restaurant in the country), legends of the lines at Franklin spread like wildfire. We were told the latest we could arrive there was 9am in order to make it inside and get an order in when they opened the doors at 11am. We left San Antonio at 7:30am and arrived at Franklin at 8:45am…and saw no one. In fact, we were kind of worried the place was closed and we didn’t read the notice. As we pulled into the parking lot, we finally saw one guy lounging on the deck. One of my partners in crime, Mike Board, ran up to talk to the guy. Turns out he got in line at 7:30am. So we grabbed a picnic table and got in line behind him. A few others started to slowly trickle in, but the real line didn’t start until 10:15am or so. Don’t let the lack of line fool you though. Several of the people there were ordering meat for huge parties. The people behind us ordered for 20. The guy behind them ordered for 50 people. So the meat sells quickly.
Franklin BBQ brisket
Once they opened the doors, we figured out what we wanted to order. Since we were hitting several other spots, the menu was somewhat limited: 1/3rd lb. brisket, 1/3rd pound turkey, some pork ribs, chopped beef and beans. Let me start by answering the one burning question: Franklin’s brisket is not better than Snow’s brisket. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal at Franklin. The brisket was very tasty, the turkey was great, the sausage was good, the beans were fantastic and the pork was the best I’d ever tasted. In fact, Mike (who was born and raised in Boston) made the astute point that, after eating the pork, he could completely understand why east coast media love Franklin BBQ as much as they do…since BBQ in the northeast is all pork. I’m not quite sure I’d wait in line 2.5 hours to eat at Franklin again, but I definitely recommend trying it at least once. Be prepared to pay, though. A pound of brisket is $15.
Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. Our second spot was Live Oak BBQ on 2nd Street, a place also written up in the New York Times. We ordered a similar menu but hardly finished it. The brisket was about 80% fat, it seemed, and the beans were severely undercooked. I don’t want to slam a place, so I’ll just leave it at that. Live Oak did have some good BBQ chicken, however.
The next stop was Iron Works BBQ on Cesar Chavez, right by the convention center. As I’ve stated before, I don’t mind dry brisket. In fact, I prefer lean brisket to moist brisket. That’s why I didn’t have a problem with Iron Works’ meat. My friends, however, hated it. Mike, Sean Talbot and Toby Hines refused to eat the brisket after taking a bite or two.
From there, we headed down Red River to Stubb’s. I’ve been to Stubb’s a million times for concert, but I’ve never eaten there. I thought the brisket was okay, but it was too dry for the other guys. The turkey, however, was fantastic. The beans had a very strong jalapeño kick. In fact, it was a little too much for me. Mike, Sean and Toby, however, loved them. I am an admitted sausage snob, but I implore you to stay away from the sausage. It tasted exactly like the sausage from Kreuz Market…and that’s not a compliment.
We finally decided to leave the downtown area and head north. I know our digestive systems appreciated a short break between stops. We landed at Mann’s BBQ on Highway 183, a spot lauded by Texas Monthly. Mann’s doesn’t look like it should be good. It’s in an old Wendy’s building. But don’t let that fool you; this is some dang good BBQ. Everything here was tasty – from the brisket to the turkey to the sausage and beans. Everything was a notch below Franklin, but you also paid quite a bit less (and didn’t have to wait in line a coupe of hours). As my friend Chuck Kaufman put it, Mann’s is the Rodney Dangerfield of Austin BBQ – it doesn’t get any respect. Well, here’s some respect for Mann’s. It’s good BBQ.
The pit at The Salt Lick
Our final spot is the source of much contention among our group: The Salt Lick. Mike is a huge fan of The Salt Lick. He even went so far to get married there. I, however, don’t really care much for it. It’s not that the food is bad, although it is way too sweet for my liking. My gripe is with the hype this place receives. I understand liking to go to The Salt Lick for the experience of being out in the middle of nowhere, etc. It’s a very Texas place. But most people don’t say that when they praise The Salt Lick. Instead, they praise the food. Anyway, the food this time around was a bit better than the other times I’ve been there. The sweetness of everything was replaced this time by saltiness. The beans, actually, were at the point of being oversalted. The brisket was good, the sausage was good and the turkey was good. It was perfectly acceptable BBQ – just don’t trust anyone who says it’s the best BBQ you’ll ever it. It’s not, and it’s not even close.
We talked afterward about how we’d rank the stops on the Austin trip. It really broke down quite easily into tiers.
- Tier 1: Franklin
- Tier 2: Mann’s/The Salt Lick
- Tier 3: Stubb’s/Iron Works
- Tier 4: Live Oak
When you factor in our last trip, it’d break down this way.
- Southside Market*
- Luling City Market
- Louie Mueller’s
- The Salt Lick
- Davis Grocery
- Iron Works
- Kreuz Market
- Live Oak BBQ
*I rank Southside Market high on the sausage alone. In fact, if you told me I could only eat at one BBQ place from here on out, I would pick Southside Market. You don’t go there to order brisket, just like you don’t go to a Mexican food restaurant and order a hamburger.
So that’s it for BBQ trip #2. There are rumblings that the third trip will be a journey to San Antonio’s top joints. See you then!