Any barbecue tour would not be complete without a prayer at the alter of all that is holy in Texas barbecue — Franklin’s in Austin.
Meat Fight is a charitable event in Dallas, Texas started by James Beard award-winning food writer Alice Laussade to raise money to support national MS research. The event involves a barbecue competition featuring chefs that don’t cook barbecue.
They also have prizes and an auction for attendees. In 2018, I won the “boner package” which included lunch at Franklin’s BBQ in Austin at the back table with the KING OF TEXAS BBQ himself Aaron Franklin and skipping the famous line to get in that usually starts around 5 am on any given day. (Check out more about Meat Fight here www.meatfight.com) Only a few people in the universe have skipped the line at Franklin’s — President Obama being one of them. So, this prize was a coveted one indeed. And I won it! (I also get to be a judge at Meat Fight 2019 — stay tuned to my Instagram story @chef.john.oneil for that coming on November 10th.)
Badass Lady Chef Jeana Johnson, F&B director for Canvas Hotel in Dallas, won the brisket competition at Meat Fight 2018 and won the overall prize for the best chef. I decided my visit to Franklin’s in Austin had to include her.
Aaron Franklin doesn’t allow videotaping in his behind the scenes tour, so we were limited to still photos. Even so… the experience was amazing. The morning started with Aaron making us espresso. In typical Aaron fashion, he was extremely attentive to detail in pulling the espresso shot and it was fabulous.
Then, Aaron gave us his personal tour of the pits and his theories on barbecue — how to build the fire, what type of wood to use, what pits are best. He gave us his personal history and told of rebuilding after the fire caused by an ember caught in the wind of Hurricane Harvey.
The crowning moment of the behind-the-scenes tour of Franklin’s was eating at the back table outside of Aaron’s personal quarters on-site of the barbecue location. Other friends of Aaron’s from Mexico joined us for lunch. The setting was a small camper trailer (with air conditioning) and picnic tables. Aaron’s wife joined us too. To say that the food was phenomenal is an understatement. Aaron was friendly and personable. He was interested in the barbecue tour we were on and offered advice and insight to the places we would visit.
All of the meats were outstanding. But the real star, surprisingly, was the turkey breast. Aaron gets a special lot of turkeys from a heritage farm in Michigan and cooks them just right so they are the most moist turkey you have ever tasted in your life. He rubs the skinless turkey with butter, black pepper and salt. That’s it. (He shares his recipe here.)
Chef Jeana visited Aaron’s previously and she said the food was just a good on the day of our visit as it was the prior visit. The turkey was equally as moist. That kind of consistency is amazing. I was also impressed with how happy and busy his staff was. Aaron runs a precise ship but his team members all seemed to know exactly what needed doing and were busy doing it. No slackers. And they were all cheerful and friendly.