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A Last Minute Itch to Eat at Franklin BBQ
I’m a fairly impatient person. I’m also a fairly spontaneous person. Sometimes, I get a wild hair that I just can’t ignore regardless of whatever it takes to relieve the itch. I’m sure you can imagine how that might make some people in my life crazy but, hey, YOLO. Right? Right. Today is one of those days. I got a last minute itch for some Franklin BBQ and I’ve just decided to wait three and half hours in line to eat it. THREE HOURS. Why? Because I’m in Austin and I happen to be traveling solo. The only one that can suffer from a potential restaurant mishap today is myself.
I’m not gonna lie, all I can think about right now is how this better be the best damn barbecue of my life. I’m EXHAUSTED coming off of 3 days at TravelCon, Matt Kepnes’ travel blogging conference, and I have a 7 hour drive home after I indulge in this inevitable dietary disaster. Oh well. If I end up with another overly fussed about, mediocre plate of BBQ at least I’ll know I can stop obsessing over Franklin BBQ and move on with my life.
The Line is INSANE
Pulling around the corner at 9:21 am, the line is already wrapped around the building. The small parking lot is already full of cars as well as the intersecting side streets. I’m already second guessing myself before I settle on a parking spot in a makeshift lot down on the street corner. All I can do is shake my head. Let’s face it, the whole idea of what I’m doing is pretty ridiculous. I’m making a conscious decision to wait all morning to pay money for a heartburn inducing gut bomb. What is wrong with me?
I sat in my car and questioned my sanity one last time before deciding to go ahead and hang out with these other folks in line. My failure to bring a lawn char and a six pack of Lone Star is proof I didn’t do my research. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who are these people and where have they come from?” The couple in front of me is here on vacation from California with orders from a friend not to leave without trying Franklin BBQ. The group of four guys in front of them drove up from Ft. Worth this morning. I think I overheard it was a repeat visit so that’s encouraging. Fort Worth is a 3 hour drive north by the way. They drove 3 hours to wait 3 hours to eat. INSANE.
As for me, I’m just in town for a conference hoping to top off the weekend with some mouth-watering BBQ. Waiting isn’t so bad…yet. I’ve already taken a nap on my backpack and I have another hour or so to get a little writing done before the doors open.
But WHYYYY Wait So Long in Line just for Franklin when Austin is full of Great BBQ?
I consider myself somewhat of a foodie but not the type you see hunting down Michelin star plates in every city. I’m more of an Anthony Bourdain-inspired gastronome who seeks out flavors even the locals love and in whatever style feels right for the location. Sure, sometimes that’s a Michelin table booked months in advance because those are good too. More often, it’s a busy yet unassuming establishment somewhere just off the beaten path. It’s placement is as if reserved either for the dedicated or the lost. In this case, it’s a cozy smoke pit tucked away in East Side Austin. It’s just far enough from downtown that a tourist would have to be there on purpose – or, you know, completely lost.
There’s no doubt that BBQ is a pillar of the Austin food scene. I have had some damn fine BBQ in this city; but, my question still begs, have I had the best? I’ve wanted to eat at Franklin BBQ for a couple of years now. Even though I’ve been to Austin twice in that time frame, a seemingly simple lunch is actually quite complicated since this little smokehouse blew up in the media.
The Half Day Lunch Commitment
Eating here means devoting at least half a day. There’s no, “let’s grab Franklin’s today” or “let’s pick up Franklin’s on the way through.” That is, unless you schedule at least several days in advance and are willing to order at least 5 lbs of meat. Not your typical scenario. Additionally, Franklin BBQ is only open for lunch and by “lunch,” I mean from 11 until food is out. I hear that’s usually around 2:30. Limited hours and limited supply means like-minded, perhaps crazy, Texans and tourists line up as early as 6 am for a taste of what is recognized as the best BBQ in all of Austin and, possibly, the entire US.
Still, why?? Other than the fact that I love good food, I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s the curiosity of why both locals and tourists continue to get in line 6 days a week waiting up to 5 hours for a mid-day meal. More so, why they’re willing to do it time and time again. Could it really be THAT good?
The Actual Wait
A couple of hours in, as if knowing we need a boost, a young lady starts handing out with mini chopped beef sandwiches. Whether it’s because I skipped breakfast or because their trademark espresso sauce mixed into the beef was to die for, I needed that sandwich. That quarter pound or so of chopped brisket folded into a slice of white bread brightened my tired eyes and gave me fresh motivation to continue waiting for my turn at the counter.
Not only do they having cooking the BBQ down to a science, they have serving the BBQ down to a science. Long before the doors open to get the line moving, we are each given an estimate as to what time we will reach the front. They also know about where in line they will run out of certain meats. This is determined, I presume, by the somewhat preliminary order taken from each person while waiting in line. They let me know ribs would be “risky” for my spot in line just in case I had my heart set on them. I appreciate that they know their supply well enough not to waste people’s time if all they want is one certain thing. After listing off my order, they tell me I’ll probably get my turn to order around 1:00 pm.
I arrived at the counter at almost 1:00 pm on the dot. Impressive! We are greeted with a sampling of sliced brisket perfection just in case we were thinking about not ordering it. Don’t think about not ordering the brisket. That would be a colossal mistake. As I looked around, I knew what was about to happen. Most patrons had more on their tray than one could possibly eat in a single sitting and I was about to be one of them.
Fortunately, Franklin’s bbq menu is pretty simple. You’ve got your meats that you can order by weight and a choice of three sides – beans, slaw, potato salad. The hardest choice is deciding which meats to try so I did what any reasonable person would do… I ordered a little of everything! I was even able to score some ribs. All that was going home for dinner though and I needed to eat lunch! I like to try signature dishes so I decided to give the Tipsy Texan a shot. The Tipsy Texan is a half pound sandwich piled high with brisket, sausage, coleslaw and pickles. I’m not usually one to put coleslaw on my sandwich but it just looked SO good. I decided to just go for it. Guys and gals, if you’re ever there, just do it. It’s amazing.
Is the Wait worth it?
You’re probably thinking,”OK, Jenna. You had some good BBQ, but is it worth waiting in line for THREE hours?” Well, three and a half actually and 100% yes. I honestly didn’t see myself saying that at the end of this experience. That sounds really cynical but hyped up food joints have let me down more times than I can count. Not to mention, it’s hard to imagine that a mom and pop stop in East Austin could really be worth a longer wait than the Vatican. See more about my trip to Italy.
I guess for those of us who love to travel and eat, it’s all part of the hunt for those elusive and not so elusive places in the world that truly are everything they are cracked up to be. Franklin BBQ isn’t hidden anymore, but it is a gem. Hands down best BBQ I’ve had in my life. Chances are, next time I’m in Austin you’ll find me there again.
Franklin BBQ Line Tips
- Go early or, if you’re feeling risky, go late. Folks start lining up as early as 6 or 7 am. I got in line at about 9:30 on a Sunday and my wait was 3.5 hours. If you want to try to eat at Franklin BBQ without waiting too long, you can try showing up around 12:30 or 1:00. By this time, the line is usually substantially shorter. The risk with showing up late is they may be out of certain meats or even all the food. They’re known to run out by 1:30 quite frequently.
- Get comfy. Bring a chair and drinks and make yourself comfortable. Beer is great but water is important too. Austin is almost always HOT. On the off chance it’s cold, bring a blanket and coffee thermos to keep warm. The doors don’t open until 11 so you’ll have a while to lounge around. Once the restaurant opens, bathrooms are available and there’s a designated area to store fold up chairs while you eat.
- Come with friends, make new ones, or both. Time passes easier with good company. Experience Franklin BBQ with a group of friends and pass the time with a six pack and a deck of cards. If you are coming alone, don’t be afraid to make friends with others waiting in line for the famous Franklin BBQ. You’re all in this together. If you’re a little bashful and a true introvert, spend the time reading a good book.
- Go hungry but not too hungry. This is probably the best tip for waiting in line at Franklin BBQ because getting hangry is the worst. Most of us know our limits on how long we can go without food. If you’re lining up at 8 am, eating a light breakfast before you go or snacking on a banana while you wait probably won’t kill your appetite.
Eating at Franklin Barbecue FAQ
Franklin BBQ is busiest on the weekend so, if you can, try to visit on a weekday to reduce your wait time.
Franklin BBQ opens 11 am and closes when the meat runs out. Most days that’s around 2:00 or 3:00 pm but some days it’s earlier. Besides during the holidays, the only days that Franklin BBQ is closed is on Monday.
Believe it or not, this popular establishment is only a decade old. Aaron Franklin first started offering his mouth-watering bbq to the public by opening a food trailer in Austin in 2009. The business was moved into the current East Austin location in 2011.
Virtually the only way you can avoid the line at Franklin BBQ is by calling ahead and ordering at least 5 pounds of meat to go. You can try showing up around 1:00 or later but risk the dreaded “Sold Out” sign.