Posts Tagged ‘Brisket’

Franklin Barbecue – Austin, TX

Monday, July 28th, 2014 by virginia

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Prior to our arrival in Texas, I hadn’t given much thought to Franklin Barbecue. Sure, I wanted to try it, but I also don’t like standing in line or big crowds. I also don’t like feeling disappointed when restaurants don’t live up to their hype. But after getting to Austin and realizing there really wasn’t that much to see around the city, we decided to bite the bullet and make the wait, the logic being that who knows when we’ll ever be back in Austin.

For those of you who’ve never heard of Franklin Barbecue or have never seen the Chase commercial featuring Nobu Matsuhisa, a renowned Japanese chef, visiting the famous Austin joint and meeting Aaron Franklin, the person behind the barbecue, it’s a much lauded barbecue restaurant that started as a food trailer and quickly grew into a brick and mortar location with a line almost as notorious as its food. People literally wait hours each day to eat this barbecue, and brisket, Franklin’s most popular item, always sells out. Once all the food is gone, usually by midday, they close up shop. And so basically, unless you’re the POTUS, there’s no way to avoid waiting if you want to taste that brisket.

Josh and I mapped out our plan of action the night before: he would leave our hotel first around 8:30 am and get in line. I would stay in the room until J woke up and get her ready for the day, including packing the diaper bag full of books and toys that would amuse her during the inevitable wait. While I was getting everything ready, Josh called to say that I should bring whatever beer we had, as the line was long and everyone was drinking. So I put the beer we had left over from the Salt Lick, as well as a few other beers we acquired during our trip, in a grocery bag topped with ice, hooked it up to J’s stroller, and soon J and I were on our way.

I’m pretty directionally challenged, so even though Josh tried to tell me how to get there the night before, I stopped by the front desk for a map and clear instructions. It was almost 10 am at this point. When I asked the nice young man at the desk how to get to Franklin Barbecue, his response was, “Well you see, ma’am, the thing about this place is, there’s this line…” My first thought was, “Yikes! Am I really a ‘ma’am’ already?” Which was quickly followed by my second thought, “Duh, of course I know about the line.” I convinced myself that the “ma’am” was just a polite Southern thing, not a reflection of how old I may or may not look, and I quickly assured him that my husband was already waiting in line; I just needed to know where to go to meet him.

It was a pretty short walk from our hotel to Franklin Barbecue, and as the restaurant came into sight, the line didn’t look too bad. Only when I got closer, and could see down the hill from the building, did I realize just how far it stretched.

At first glance, the line doesn't look too bad

At first glance, the line doesn’t look too bad…

Upon closer inspection, you see just how far down the block the line stretches

Upon closer inspection, you see just how far down the block the line stretches

When I located Josh, who was about three-quarters down in the line, he told me that the line had actually been longer, but they had just given out the “last man standing” sign to someone only a few people behind him, and so a bunch of people who were at the very end of the line gave up and left. The┬ásign indicates that the person holding it is the last person guaranteed to get brisket. Basically, a worker at the restaurant takes a poll of what each person in line is going to order, and then based on that, they estimate at which point they’re going to run out of brisket. There is also an informal rib count, and I was alarmed to hear that the people right in front of us were the last ones guaranteed ribs.

Our position in line

Our position in line

The restaurant officially opens at 11am, and so we still had a bunch of time to kill before the line would even begin to start moving. Looking around, most people were a lot more prepared than we were, with folding chairs, umbrellas, and coolers of drinks set up. One rowdy group behind us (who we later found out was the crew from Uchi and Uchiko, two of Austin’s top restaurants and where Top Chef Paul Qui honed his skills) was drinking endless cups of bloody marys and seemed to be having a great time. I guess if you think of the wait as sort of a pre-bbq tailgating party, it’s just part of the fun. I still didn’t think the wait was fun, but at least we had a few cold beers to help us pass the time. And if you don’t remember or know to BYO, someone comes around selling cold beers and drinks from a tray.

To kill some time during the wait, Josh went to check out where the magic happens - the smokers out back

To kill some time during the wait, Josh went to check out where the magic happens – the smokers out back

At long last, the line began moving at 11, but at a snail’s pace. The pair in front of us, who were students at the University of Texas, were experienced diners and told us that the line moves slowly because they’ll only serve as many people as they can seat in the restaurant. That way, you are guaranteed to find somewhere to sit and eat your food immediately. It made sense to us, but as the line eventually crawled up towards the side of the building, there looked like a few tables were always empty at any given time.

When we ultimately made our way up the ramp and inside the restaurant (a triumphant feeling, 4 hours after Josh first started waiting), we could finally see what was going on. There’s still a decent wait from the time you get inside until you reach the counter to order, and the reason for that is the man himself – Aaron Franklin. Not only was he taking everyone’s order and personally slicing every brisket, he was greeting and chatting with each person that came up. When it was finally our turn, he asked us where we were from, gave us permission to take pictures, and then made fun of us for not ordering enough food (I guess most people order a lot and take home leftovers, which wouldn’t have been practical for us).

When we ordered a quarter pound of brisket, he asked if we wanted fatty or lean. We’re no fools (or so we thought) – of course we wanted fatty! Then he asked if we were sure, and he sliced off a hunk of a lean burnt end for us to taste, which may have been the single greatest bite of barbecue I’ve ever eaten. Seriously.

The master in action

The master in action

The burnt end, which is the end point of a whole brisket, is probably the most flavorful part of the meat. It’s usually fatty and has lots of bark on it, and even though this was a lean end, we literally had juices dripping down our arms when we bit into it. The end had a nice bit of char on it, was smoky but not overly so, and ridiculously rich in the best way possible. Those ends alone were worth the wait, and we were pretty lucky to have gotten to try them. We wound up changing our order to half lean and half fatty because of that.

The lean brisket was still nicely marbled throughout, though it had a meatier texture than the fatty brisket. The fatty brisket was so tender it practically melted in our mouths. I think it’s just a personal preference – it you like to chew your meat, go for lean. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not tough or chewy at all, but it’s definitely got more bite than the fatty. Some people might find the fatty end too fatty and soft, but for me, there’s no such thing when the meat is prepared properly. The char on the outside of all the slices was just great, imparting lots of concentrated meat flavor.

Brisket up close - look at the glorious bark

Brisket up close – look at the gorgeous bark

The rest of the barbecue was no slouch either. Fortunately, they did not run out of ribs ahead of us, so we were able to get a quarter pound of those. The juicy ribs that were meaty and well seasoned. They weren’t falling off the bone but yielded easily to our bites.

Ribs up top, brisket, pulled pork, turkey on the left, plus bread and cole slaw

Ribs up top, fatty and lean brisket, pulled pork, turkey on the left, plus bread and cole slaw

Cole slaw was the only side we ordered, which we used as a crunchy counterpoint to all the rich meat we were eating. It was perfectly fine – fresh, crisp, not overdressed – but nothing to write home about.

Cole slaw

Cole slaw

We also got a quarter pound of pulled pork, which wasn’t the pulverized mash that we’re used to seeing. This was roughly chopped meat, still in identifiable chunks, with a good mix of fatty and lean bits.

Pulled pork

Pulled pork up close

The pulled pork was the best vehicle for three barbecue sauces on the table – Texas-style, espresso, and sweet vinegar. Texas-style was the standard thicker, darker, sweet and smoky sauce. The vinegar sauce reminded us of Carolina barbecue, with its signature tang. The espresso sauce definitely had a strong hint of coffee flavor, but was a bit too out of the box for us to really enjoy the barbecue with; it seem to overpower the flavor of the meat. And we used the other sauces sparingly, as this barbecue was good simply on its own.

Barbecue sauces - espresso, sweet vinegar, Texas-style

Trio of barbecue sauces – espresso, sweet vinegar, and Texas-style

Instead of sausage, we decided to try the turkey, which people in line told us was really something special. The slices we got in our quarter pound order were surprisingly moist for breast meat, and packed a punch of smoky flavor. Josh declared it the best turkey he’s ever eaten, and he desperately wants to try smoking a turkey for our next holiday meal. I’m generally not a turkey lover, except maybe on a club sandwich slathered with mayo, so I probably didn’t appreciate the smoked turkey as much. Compared to the other meats we had, it was much drier in texture, and the smokiness was a bit too strong for my taste. We saved a few pieces of it for J to eat later, as she had fallen asleep while we were in line. She was a definite trooper during the wait – reading books, eating snacks, drinking milk, toddling around, and generally charming the people around her. Aside from a younger baby in a carrier, she was the only kid we saw in line.

Smoked turkey

Smoked turkey

Overall, I have to say, Franklin Barbecue definitely lived up to the hype. We haven’t tasted better barbecue anywhere else, and for us, it was worth the wait. The line itself is an adventure – if you come prepared for it, time passes quickly. The people we met in line treated the wait like a party. They planned their whole day around this. For them, it was a time to drink, laugh, and hang out with friends before eating amazing food. And the barbecue is absolutely amazing. The flavors of the meat, the textures, were all outstanding. Aside from the turkey (which Josh loved), I thought nothing was too smoky but everything had a wonderful savoriness to it that was imparted by the smoker. We ate until we were stuffed, and then continued eating because it was just too good to stop. Besides, we had burned off plenty of calories standing in line for 4.5 hours. And you know what? We would do it again.

Franklin Barbecue
900 E. 11th St.
Austin, TX

Sold out! The sign on the door when we left the restaurant around 2:30 pm.

Sold out! The sign on the door when we left the restaurant around 2:30 pm

The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 by virginia

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We took a much-needed break in San Antonio from eating barbecue after our epic day of feasting through Luling and Lockhart, but we picked back up on the barbecue train after arriving in Austin. We spent the afternoon exploring the south side of the city, including the famed South Congress Ave. area where there are lots of restaurants and bars. It was kind of dead though, as it was still early in the evening, so we decided to make the 40 minute drive to the original location of the Salt Lick, a barbecue place we’ve heard a lot about.

It was fortunate that we made the decision to go when we did, as they were closing the restaurant early for their staff holiday party that evening. There was a short wait for a table, but we had the foresight to pick up a 6-pack of beer on our way to the restaurant (it’s a BYO) so we were able to enjoy a cold one while we waited. It also gave us time to observe the huge pit were all the meats were being cooked, which definitely helped to whet our appetites.

The barbecue pit at the Salt Lick

The barbecue pit at the Salt Lick

We ended up getting a huge table in the back just for the three of us, which gave us plenty of room to accommodate J’s high chair and spread out. We debated ordering family style, which is basically all you can eat beef brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, as well as sides, but we weren’t super hungry and didn’t want to overdo it. At $21.95/person though, it’s a pretty good deal, and a lot of groups around us appeared to be partaking. Instead, we shared combo plate and one double cut beef rib. The combo plate came with two meats, and we selected brisket and pork ribs (the other choices are sausage or turkey). It came with potato salad, cole slaw, and beans on the side, as well as soft bread, pickles, and onions.

Table of food (and you can see J's little hand reaching out to snag a rib!)

Table of food (and you can see J’s little hand reaching out to snag a rib!)

The pork ribs were very meaty, not falling off the bone but still tender. The brisket was on the drier side though, without the marbling that I like in fattier cuts. Fortunately the Salt Lick barbecue sauce was there to help, add some moisture and tangy sweetness.

Combo plate with brisket and pork ribs

Combo plate with brisket and pork ribs

The single order double cut beef rib actually came with two ribs, both massive. I felt like I was in the Flintstones, gnawing on a gigantic rib. Unfortunately, the meat was pretty tough and dry, and even the barbecue sauce wasn’t much help here. The pork rib was the clear winner of the two.

Double cut beef ribs

Double cut beef ribs – you can see the meat sort of dried and shriveling away from the bone on the front rib

Overall, we were slightly disappointed with the barbecue from the Salt Lick. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. The meat didn’t have much smoke flavor to it, which I don’t necessarily mind, but it was definitely drier than other barbecue we tasted on our trip. I don’t know if they were in a rush since they were closing early that evening so we just happened to be there on an off night, or if what we got was standard. I also think that part of the appeal of the Salt Lick (the Driftwood location at least) is the atmosphere, which is usually supposed to be crowded, noisy, and festive, with live music and plenty of seating, both indoors and out. We were there on a chilly winter night just before they were closing, and we were at a big table with just the three of us. I would definitely like to try it again, maybe on a warm day sitting outside with a bunch of friends and a cooler full of beer.

The Salt Lick (multiple locations)
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX

Texas Barbecue Round-Up – Luling and Lockhart

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by virginia

We spent our second night in Texas at our friends’ home outside of Houston. James and Angie were wonderful hosts to us, and J had the time of her life playing side by side with their boys. After spending a relaxing evening making homemade pizza on the grill (a veggie pizza topped with fresh slices of jalapeno is a brilliant combination) and eating donuts and kolaches for breakfast, we got a late start on the next leg of our trip, San Antonio. James advised us to stop for some barbecue lunch at City Market in Luling, Texas, which was about 2.5 hours away. He also mentioned that about 20 minutes away from Luling was Lockhart, where there were multiple renowned barbecue joints. Since we were hitting the road a bit later than we expected, we figured it would just be more convenient to stop through Lockhart on our way from San Antonio to Austin, which would be the shortest drive on our trip anyway.

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Luling was a small, quaint-looking town and City Market was located on a main street among other shops. Inside the tables were set up cafeteria-style, so I found a high chair and got J settled while Josh went to the back room where the pit is to order our food. It was a little after normal lunchtime so the restaurant wasn’t too full, and we wound up having the table to ourselves. Josh came back with an assortment of meats served on butcher paper. He also got some pickles on onions on the side, and a package of saltines for J rather than the usual white bread.

Assorted barbecued meats from City Market

Assorted barbecued meats from City Market

The brisket was on the leaner side so not as tender or as marbled with fat as I usually prefer. The meaty flavor, however, was just delicious. It was smoky but not overwhelmingly so, and I loved dipping it into the slightly spicy/slightly vinegary barbecue sauce that was left out in glass bottles on all the tables.

City Market brisket

City Market brisket

The ribs were a bit tougher than I expected them to be, and also on the drier side. They needed a bit more seasoning to them, and that’s where the barbecue sauce came in handy again. The sauce was the perfect combination of spicy and tangy flavor.

City Market ribs

City Market ribs

James had recommended we order the sausage, and while I am usually not a fan, this was something special. The meat was coarsely ground and reminded me a bit of merguez in texture. The casing had a good snap to it, and the flavor of the beef was smoky and well seasoned. I was surprised by just how much I liked it.

City Market sausage

City Market sausage

After enjoying the barbecue so much at City Market, we craved more. And so we made the split decision to continue on to Lockhart. We had nothing in particular planned for that evening in San Antonio, we were only 20 minutes away, and we were still hungry, so why not? We decided that we would order 1/4 pound each of the same meats – brisket, ribs, and sausage – at the three most popular barbecue places in the barbecue capital.

Our first stop in Lockhart was Smitty’s Market. While the entrance was dark and kind of smoky from the barbecue pit down the hall, the separate dining room was brightly lit and bustling, reminding me of an old school diner or ice cream soda shop. There were long communal tables, many of which were filled with families enjoying an early dinner.

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Josh went to get the food while I staked out some seats with J. He came back with the barbecue on butcher paper, more crackers for J, as well as a Big Red soda and Lone Star beer. Neither of us had ever tasted Big Red before, and to be perfectly honest, we both ended up hating it. It kind of tasted like cream soda, but not, and was just too sweet and cloying. The beer, however, was quite refreshing, and paired much better with the barbecue.

Assorted barbecued meats from Smitty's Market

Assorted barbecued meats from Smitty’s Market

The brisket was fattier than the one at City Market, and I liked that better. It was more tender and the meat almost seemed to melt in your mouth. I just wish that it was slightly more seasoned though, because while there was a decent amount of smoke, it lacked the meaty flavor of the City Market brisket. Still, it was very good on its own.

Smitty's Market brisket

Smitty’s Market brisket

The ribs at Smitty’s were fabulous. They sort of reminded me of the Texas version of the barbecued ribs that you get at Chinese restaurants. They were smoky, slightly sweet, and had us licking off our fingers after eating them. The meat was juicy and falling off the bone tender. Delicious.

Smitty's Market ribs

Smitty’s Market rib

Smitty’s sausage, on the other hand, was very disappointing. It tasted like regular breakfast sausage to me, which I didn’t like. There was nothing about it that stood out, and I also found it to be quite greasy. I would definitely pass on it the next time if I came back.

Smitty's Market sausage

Smitty’s Market sausage

Our next stop was just a few blocks away, Black’s Barbecue. The inside looked like a barbecue joint to me, with wood paneled walls and lots of animal heads hanging up. The tables were covered with plastic red checked table cloths, and there was just a casual, homey atmosphere to it that I liked.

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However, I found the barbecue at Black’s to be pretty smoky in general, but the brisket was especially so, and not in a good way. All I tasted was smoke, not the flavor of the beef. It got to be pretty overwhelming, even though the meat itself was fine in texture and fattiness.

Assorted barbecued meats from Black's Barbecue

Assorted barbecued meats from Black’s Barbecue

Black's Barbecue brisket

Black’s Barbecue brisket

The ribs had a promising-looking dark crust on them, but they also fell flat. The meat was chewy and surprisingly tough. We wound up using a lot of barbecue sauce to help get them down.

Black's Barbecue ribs

Black’s Barbecue ribs

The sausage at Black’s was also disappointing. It seemed drier in texture than the other sausages we tasted, and again, we needed help from the sweet barbecue sauce on the table to counteract the overly salty smokiness. Part of the problem might have been that our palates had just been overwhelmed by that point with all the smoke. Maybe it’s just an aspect of Texas barbecue that we’re not used to, but we didn’t really encounter that issue anywhere else.

Black's Barbecue sausage

Black’s Barbecue sausage

We were definitely no longer hungry at this point, but we powered on to our next and last stop, Kreuz Market. In contrast to the other barbecue joints we visited, this place was massive, with high ceilings and endless seating options. Like Smitty’s, there was no barbecue sauce offered, though there were bottles of a salt and pepper mixture on the table.

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J’s patience with our little food crawl had ended by this point, so we powered up some Sesame Street on the iPad and hunkered down to enjoy our last trio of meats for the day.

Assorted barbecued meats from Kreuz Market

Assorted barbecued meats from Kreuz Market

First we tried the brisket, which was astonishingly bland. It lacked both seasoning and smoke, and was much drier and tougher in texture than the other briskets we sampled. We tried using the salt and pepper mixture on it, but really, it just needed some sauce to add flavor and moisture.

Kreuz Market brisket

Kreuz Market brisket

The rib, on the other hand, was spectacular. It was unlike any rib we’ve tasted previously, and crusted with lots of crunchy bits of crushed black peppercorns. The meat wasn’t falling off the bone, but it was tender and juicy. The seasoning was great, the meat had a lot of flavor, it wasn’t overly smoky, and we happily devoured it.

Kreuz Market rib

Kreuz Market rib

The sausage at Kreuz’s was another surprise winner. We had low expectations after the disappointing brisket, but the sausage was well seasoned and peppery, with a nice snappy texture.

Kreuz Market sausage

Kreuz Market sausage

So the final verdict?

Brisket:
1) City Market
2) Smitty’s Market
3) Black’s Barbecue
4) Kreuz Market

Ribs:
1) Kreuz Market
2) Smitty’s Market
3) City Market
4) Black’s Barbecue

Sausage:
1) City Market
2) Kreuz Market
3) Black’s Barbecue
4) Smitty’s Market

Based on our rankings, I guess City Market was our favorite barbecue of the day. In addition to great meat, that tangy barbecue sauce put it over the top. Both Kreuz’s and Smitty’s had highlights as well, particularly their ribs, while Black’s just really didn’t do much for us. Obviously we’re Texas barbecue noobs, so take what we have to say with a grain of salt. There are probably other meats we should have ordered, but given our agenda and stomach capacity, we did the best we could.

We were beyond full by the time our barbecue binge was finished. Our “late lunch” had rolled into dinner time, and we couldn’t even think about eating another bite. We stuffed ourselves back into the car and finished the drive to San Antonio. After taking a late evening stroll around the River Walk and checking out the Alamo, I finally started feeling a little peckish again around midnight so we nibbled on some leftover brisket and sausage while sharing a bottle of wine in our hotel room. It was a great day of indulgence, and we were thrilled with our last minute decision to go to Lockhart that day. This is what I love best about road trips – the ability to be spontaneous and just pick up and go to whatever interests us most at that particular moment.

City Market
633 E Davis St.
Luling, TX

Smitty’s Market
208 S Commerce St.
Lockhart, TX

Black’s Barbecue
215 N Main St.

Lockhart, TX

Kreuz Market
619 N Colorado St.
Lockhart, TX