Of Meat and Men

John Mueller was the heir apparent to a legendary barbecue dynasty. Aaron Franklin was an unknown kid with a smoke-filled dream. This is the story of two pitmasters, their devoted fans, and some of the best brisket you’ll ever eat.
John Mueller (above left) at his trailer, in South Austin. Aaron Franklin (above right) at his restaurant, in East Austin.
Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden

They were the first. At nine o’clock on a cool Friday morning last fall, three young men sat on the ground outside Franklin Barbecue, in Austin, though the restaurant wouldn’t open for another two hours. “If I’m not waiting here, I’m waiting at home,” explained Marcus Kellis. In front of him sat Jonathan Nguyen, a poet studying for his MFA at Texas State University. At the head of what would soon be a line of several hundred people was Chris Margrave. He wore a John Deere cap and was casually reading a copy of Ulysses, with only 545 pages to go.

None of the men knew one another, yet they had come to regard the shared experience of salivating anticipation as part of the trip to Franklin’s, a ritual almost as important as the reward itself: the smoky, silky brisket; the ribs with the perfect combination of sweetness and heft; and the robust sausage made, according to the master’s recipe, with just a small amount of beef

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